Executed in 2008, Titus Kaphar’s Still Hungry! reappraises the still life tradition with its monumental, visceral depiction of an abandoned, picked-over dinner table. Using enamel spray paint, Kaphar aggressively covers portions of the canvas with thick patches and sweeps of white. More than half of the picture appears violently erased. Although much of the scene is made illegible, Kaphar leaves clues to what lies beneath the layers of paint. At the edge of the table, a serving bowl, nearly empty, tilts precariously atop a silver tray. Overturned cups are piled beside it, while a tablecloth is bunched messily at the center. Still Hungry!’s realistic details and deft execution gesture to past examples of the genre throughout art history: Caravaggio’s spotty fruit, Cézanne’s modern arrangements, and the crowded, overflowing tabletops of Willem Claesz Heda and Clara Peeters. However, by overwriting the scene, Kaphar cancels out the still life’s common themes of abundance, beauty, and plenty with a vision of deprivation, scarcity, and absence.
Known for his socially-engaged practice, Kaphar frequently adapts models from the past to express contemporary concerns. “I cut, crumple, shroud, shred, stitch, tar, twist, bind, erase, break, tear and turn the paintings and sculptures I create,” he says, “reconfiguring them into works that nod to hidden narratives and begin to reveal unspoken truths about the nature of history” (T. Kaphar, quoted in “Titus Kaphar,” TED). In the present work, Kaphar’s manipulation of his materials is most strongly felt in powerful, emotive gestures driving the white paint across the canvas. As Kaphar’s strong brushwork washes out the image of the table, depleted and eerily left behind, the artist not only revises the past, but offers a commentary on the present. Rich and unsettling, Still Hungry! alarms in its presentation of its subject, speaking to a world always in want, or in need, of more.