On July 4, 2021, Joey Chestnut set a world record by scarfing down 76 hot dogs in 10 minutes at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest on Coney Island. While that may sound equal parts impressive and disgusting, artist Kevin Clay offers more than five times that number in his solo show “HOTDOG!” at The Art Studio, Inc. through the end of July — and you are allowed much more than 10 minutes for consumption.
Clay was supposed to display his hot dog paintings last year but COVID caused a postponement of the show. Instead of resting on his laurels, the artist continued to paint past the original series of 75 life-size individual oil paintings — a nod to Chestnut’s previous record. He switched to acrylics and painted 75 more. The paintings are neatly arranged on two walls, five rows deep and 15 wide.
The myriad hot dogs are all the same but different. That is, they are all the same size — four by six inches — yet each is unique. The images in oils are horizontal, the acrylics vertical. I prefer the acrylic, as the oils are shiny and vaguely reminiscent of something that has been left out on the table on the boardwalk or at a reunion just a little too long.
But both series have a whimsical quality, and there is a comfort in the repetition, a meditative feeling. What are we supposed to think of these pieces? Clay has painted other foods, but there is something about the hot dog’s simplicity that lends itself to contemplation.
There are also nine larger paintings whose frame seems to be bulging with hot dogs, pushing against the boundaries of the canvas, much as one imagines they push against Joey Chestnut’s stomach. On one mid-sized painting alone there are 59 hot dogs piled on top of each other — yes, I counted. Clay has said the crowded pieces are a reaction to the coronavirus pandemic’s isolation. Let’s face it, nothing says feeding the masses like a cheap sausage and a bun.
Interestingly, Clay’s hot dogs are unencumbered by condiments. There is no mustard, ketchup, relish or chili on view. The simple hot dog is presented in its naked glory for us to imprint upon the image whatever emotional flavor we see fit.
Like Jasper Johns’ flag series, there is profundity in the mundane. The hot dog is a symbol of Independence Day, as much as fireworks and the Stars and Stripes. Forget apple pie, the hot dog is America’s food. And Clay’s “HOTDOG!” force feeds us a whimsical, thoughtful visual feast.
“HOTDOG!” is on display through July 31 in The Art Studio, Inc.’s popup gallery, 720 Franklin in downtown Beaumont. Hours are noon to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
For more, visit artsudio.org.
This review first ran in the July 9, 2021 issue of Art of Living, a publication of the Beaumont Enterprise.