Play With Your Food: Ferris Plock Makes Art Out of Dinner in 'Food Faces'

'Sean Chickenbrow' is just one of the colorful characters inhabiting 'Food Faces.'

San Francisco artist Ferris Plock is that amorphous age between grown-up kid and adolescent adult. The longtime staple of the Bay Area’s skate art scene paints and illustrates tableaux that are both goofy and incredibly detailed, often involving intricate patterns, gold or silver leafing, and bright pops of color. A conglomeration of pop culture references inhabit his worlds -- from skateboarding to drive-in snack bar promos and Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblocks -- but as far as themes go, food is a biggie.

In his anthropomorphic fantasies come to life, ice cream cones and pretzels pose as skater dudes, while pizza and tacos grow amphibian extremities. The guy who turned his former ‘hood, the Western Addition, into the “Spaghetti Western Addition” for an illustrated series of meatball-and-cowboy shootouts often populates his alternate realities with cheap eats.

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So it makes perfect sense that he’d one day stumble into a lowbrow version of food styling — shaping bits of breakfast, lunch, and dinner into funny monster faces that his two sons, Brixton (6), and Angus (3), would eat, and that his wife, the equally talented artist Kelly Tunstall, would embrace as well. After four years of placing sushi, cheese puffs, sausages, strips of chicken, apple slices, Japanese rice crackers, and pretzel buns just so on his family’s plates, and then feeding images of these tasty visages to his 15,000 followers on Instagram with the #foodfaces hashtag, Plock and Tunstall are releasing an unconventionally awesome art book and kid’s cookbook combo called Food Faces.

Plock and Tunstall have long been collaborators, and both are set to be artists-in-residence at the de Young next year. Tunstall’s starry-eyed mermaids and stylish creature charmers exist in her paintings and 3-D printed sculptures, her murals for restaurants A16 (where Plock designed the pizza boxes) and Bar Crudo, and in pieces the couple creates together as KeFe, Inc. But this book brings in a third party, photographer Howard Cao of Form & Fiction, under their larger Day Dreamers Limited umbrella. And as a trio, they’ve elevated Plock’s inspiring 30-minute parenting hacks to get his kids to finish meals into expressive beasts with names as colorful as the plating.

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Food Faces’ “Bwana Bananatoof,” for example, is a triple-eyed guy baring banana teeth and blood orange ears against a yellow plate. “Kelly Kiwicheeks” sorta matches Tunstall’s red hair tone with carrot sticks on a checkered dish, while “Francis Noodlebeard”’s buck-toothed smile of red and white carrots pops against a bed of beet fettuccine “beard” noodles. The book is broken up into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, with “recipes” for the ingredients that went into each Ralphy Ravioli and Ned Nori.

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But the couple says Food Face isn’t about perfectly recreating these wild things in your own home, or suggesting some impossible parenting ideal that involves, as Tunstall puts it, some “fake healthy food thing.” It’s about approaching eating with the small ones with a little creativity and getting crafty to help your kids eat.

“We generally eat pretty healthy but we have snack food in here,” she says, flipping through a copy of Food Faces in their toy-lined Outer Richmond apartment. “And then there’s the reality of, hey, we get Chinese takeout” — which makes its way into Leftover Larry’s face — "and that’s okay. This isn’t some parent shaming thing.” She says Food Faces are sometimes their solution when they don’t have time to cook but “it’s going to look awesome when you eat it.”

“It’s a way to personalize stuff instead of it coming through the door and then you dump it on a plate,” she adds.

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Walter Watermouth

Plock, who grew up with a mom who made Mickey Mouse pancakes with blueberry eyes, says Food Faces get his sons interested art as well as dinner. “It’s another fun thing to do together,” he says of picking out eyeballs, noses, and earlobes together. Inspired by Plock, Brixton’s preschool is now carving out time for the kids to make Food Faces in the classroom as well.

The flair for keeping art cheeky and fun is central to the scene that Tunstall and Plock emerged from — a tightly knit crew of playful and prestigious artists that includes Jeremy Fish, Jay Howell, Travis Millard, John Dwyer, and Porous Walker, among others. That scene centered around Juxtapoz magazine, the beloved blog and gallery Fecal Face (RIP), and as well as Upper Playground, 111 Minna Gallery, and Park Life. Tunstall and Plock are holdouts of the silly San Francisco artist streak that merges the skateboarding community with gallery life. It's an inviting side of the city’s creative scene that seduced me here back in the ‘90s and remains here, despite many of our greats — like Howell and Dwyer — decamping for Los Angeles.

Of the enduring strength of San Francisco’s spirited skate art community, Plock says just consider its longtime hub. “Fecal Face was a tongue-in-cheek turn on ‘shitface’ and being at art openings [where] you’re just there to get a little wine,” he says. “You’re not taking any of this ‘art stuff’ too seriously and that was a common theme of a lot of the Fecal Face artists — trying to have fun, making people smile and laugh but also making them think.”

He jokes that Food Faces are the new street art — which, he says, makes Tunstall his spotter. He adds that there’s a feverish component to his work too, because the kids are letting him know every ten seconds that they’re hungry.

“Food Faces are a temporary thing, and there’s this component of it that street art used to be to me,” he says, “that you’re building something and you know it’s going to be gone in seconds. You enjoy doing it in the moment and you’re lucky if you get a picture of it.” He thinks about it more and adds half-jokingly, “Food art is more street than street art now.”

They may not last through dinner, but with Food Faces, Plock’s blueberry spider-eyed monsters will at least make it through Brixton’s and Angus’ childhood. Not to mention that this book is perfect for a city where we won’t stop playing with our food — or our snack art — well into adulthood.

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The book release party for Food Faces is Fri., June 3, at Rare Device (600 Divisadero St. in the Spaghetti Western Addition), 6-9 p.m. There will be limited edition prints from the book for sale, along with Food Faces placemats and coloring books; the book is also for sale at Day Dreamers Limited's website. Plock will be selling artwork at Rare Device’s booth at West Coast Craft on Sat. & Sun. June 11-12 at Fort Mason.

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