On a tight budget while in graduate school at Southern Illinois University, Mike Geno would still dish out $15 for a juicy porterhouse steak. The purchase was easy to justify: As a painting and drawing student, his interest in meat had a great stake in his art.
"I just deducted it from my art-supplies budget," said Geno, a Philadelphia artist and instructor at Moore College of Art & Design.
"But the more expensive my subject was, the more I wanted to eat it."
Like early pop artist Wayne Thiebauld, who used thick brushstrokes to paint textual frosting, Geno's style of using oil pastels in compositions such as his lush bacon series makes the edges of the pinkish-brown bacon lumpy with cream-colored "fat," a juicy image for bacon-lovers.
"Thiebauld often portrayed food in a way that was to the point," Geno said.
"I like the idea of trying to do that with my work. And no matter how many portraits of food I do, I keep coming back to meat."
Part of Geno's meat obsession stems back to time spent as a meat-cutter in college. "I had never considered bringing it into artwork, but I was extremely hungry one day and just wanted to paint a really juicy steak," he said.
Geno, who grew up in Philadelphia and spent his undergraduate years at Temple University's Tyler School of Art, said that being in Carbondale, Ill., for grad school made him more appreciative of his hometown's food supply.
The cuisine "was bland compared to Philly," Geno recalled, adding that he would occasionally travel six hours to Chicago just to get some good eats.
The artist also came to further realize the iconic status of Philadelphia staples such as the Philly Pretzel Factory and Tastykakes in his artwork when a woman in California commissioned him to paint a portrait of Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets.
"She was from Philly and really had a connection to a local food," he said. "Food is a connector, and it's really interesting to connect it back as the original social networking. It's an interesting subject that is approachable by everyone."