One of the defining characteristics of contemporary art is the wide range of media used by its practitioners. In addition to paint, marble, and other more traditional materials, today’s artists use photography, video, and even every-day objects in the pursuit of creative expression. Elysia Root, founder of Elysia Root Cakes, expands this trajectory of contemporary art using sugar, buttercream, and fondant.
Unlike bakeries that produce standardized special-occasion cakes, each of Root’s creations is custom-designed, unique, and made by hand. When Root meets with her clients, she sketches out the design for each cake on a traditional artist’s sketchbook. After the initial design concept is agreed upon, Root and her team bake the cake and fashion the décor elements.
Root considers her work an art form, “edible art,” and calls herself a “cake artist.” She likens her process to the commissioning of an artwork, wherein artist and client agree upon the aesthetics and specifications of a final product that is uniquely crafted. While her work is time-sensitive and typically consumed, it follows the age-old commission formula.
Root draws inspiration from the elements of each wedding or event including dresses, china patterns, or architectural features. For creations like cars or planes where precision and accuracy matter, she obtains blueprints to guide her work.
Like other visual artists, Root has a unique aesthetic style. She prefers clean, modern, and thought-provoking design which she achieves by innovative use of color, placement, and technique. Root says, “It’s surprising how creative cake decorating can be. When people see my cakes, they understand it’s an artistic expression.”
The similarities between custom cakes and sculpture are clear. Both are three dimensional means of creating realistic or abstract forms. Root constructs her cakes in an additive process in the way an artist working with metal, wood, or mixed media would combine disparate parts to create a whole. She uses clay sculpting tools and a variety of molds and cutters which she co-opts for cake-design. All of her tools are kept in bins in her kitchen, which is akin to an artist’s studio.
In addition to the sculptural form of her cakes, Root often adds floral elements that can be eaten or saved indefinitely as mementos. Created from sugar paste mixed with gums, the flowers are constructed with wire supports and dry hard. Root continues to take special classes, traveling sometimes to New York City or Toronto to learn how to make new flowers. Each is handmade, labor-intensive, and almost indistinguishable from the real thing. With the exception of the material, the flowers can be compared to sculptures made from clay or plaster.
Root’s cakes sometimes include traditional hand-painting on the fondant. To create these designs, she uses edible dust mixed with high-proof alcohol which evaporates to leave only the color. Root uses the same brushes painters use, purchased from art stores, and mixes her colors in the same way a watercolorist would.
Besides visual appeal, a cake needs to taste as good as it looks. Root is a graduate of The French Pastry School in Chicago and studied with some of the world’s top cake artists. Her team are credentialed pastry chefs as well. Because it is how she cooks and eats at home, Root uses natural, organic, and local ingredients as well as sustainable practices like composting and recycling.
To expand your definition of contemporary art practice and see more of Root’s creations, visit http://elysiarootcakes.com/. Ellis Root Cakes is located at 1939 West Fulton Street in Chicago, and meets by special appointment. You can order your own cake creation by emailing Elysia Root Cakes at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 312-344-1046.