Noelle Knight is not afraid to profess her love for “unhealthy” food.
Whether it’s MoonPies, or Milk Duds, she loves the taste of some sweet treats. But you won’t catch her snacking on them all the time.
Instead, Knight’s painting them alongside healthier options as part of her exhibition, “Food Values,” currently on display at The Riverdale Y’s Gallery 18 through Jan. 31. The exhibit also features Knight’s still life paintings and paintings of Riverdale.
Food is always a conversation starter among Knight’s friends and family. When Knight’s father passed away from diabetes last year, it made her think more about what she was consuming daily.
“I’m more health conscious,” she said. “I’m probably healthier than I was in my 20s. I pay more attention to what I eat. So maybe that’s why I paint these things … feeding that desire without eating it.”
So Knight got to work. She’d often stumble upon a food brand, research its nutritional or lack of nutritional values, and find a way to connect it to another type of food by playing with each item’s packaging or color.
“It’s sort of that contrast of not just the visual, but how it makes you feel physically,” she said, “how it makes you feel when you’re eating it.”
The response to “Food Values” has been positive so far, Knight added. At the opening reception, one person said her food paintings reflected her own life of balancing between what’s good and what’s not good for her to eat.
Years after graduating from a master’s program, Knight is always delighted to hear what people have to say about her work. She’s also grateful for the feedback she receives when she posts her work on Instagram and Facebook.
“When you’re not in that (graduate school) environment, you don’t have that much exposure to people’s thoughts,” Knight said. “I like to know what people like so it helps me choose a direction.”
Knight continues to draw inspiration for projects like her “Food Values” paintings from other sources — her art students. She teaches art to kindergarten through eighth-grade students at a school in Inwood, where she shares her art with her students and encourages them to voice their own ideas and opinions.
“I always feel like they influence me so much because the way they think outside of the box,” Knight said. “They just think of things that would never cross our minds as adults. I think it helps to keep my brain fresh and expanding in various directions.”
Knight plans to expand the “Food Values” project for one crucial reason — she’s having fun.
“As I get older, I get less serious about what I’m painting and I just think, ‘Life is really short. I need to just paint fun stuff,’” she said. “And I feel that that brings joy to people.”
For more information, visit RiverdaleY.org.