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Celebrated chef Jacques Pépin’s artistic side explored in a new exhibit

Jacques Pépin
Stamford Museum and Nature Center
Renowned chef Jacques Pépin has been painting for decades. An exhibit of his artwork is now on view at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center.

Jacques Pépin figures he’s painted over 500 works of art, going back to the early 1960s. He said painting has always been a passion, but it has become a focus of late.

“It’s become more important in the last two years because I probably do less cooking, less traveling,” he said. “And you know, I’m going to be 86 next month, so my life is getting a little more sedentary.”

Pépin is an artist in the kitchen. It turns out the pioneering French chef is also a gifted visual artist. A collection of Pépin’s paintings is the focus of an exhibition at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center.

Pépin’s foray into the fine arts started after moving to the U.S. in 1959. While pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Columbia University, he took some drawing classes. His first artwork appeared on hand-drawn menus he created for guests at his lavish dinner parties, a tradition he continues to this day.

Pépin’s colorful paintings run the gamut — from more abstract styles to landscapes and still lifes. Sometimes the styles merge, like when he paints flowers.

“I do a lot of flowers and flowers are probably the ideal transition between abstract and representational, because I start with dots of color and it could totally be abstract, and then you start adding a couple of stems and a leaf and all of a sudden it’s a flower.”

Pépin said he sees parallels between his cooking and his painting.

“At some point the painting kind of takes ahold of me — is it good? Not? I don’t really know,” Pépin said. “And to a certain extent I realize it is like cooking. When you are a professional chef you work on a dish, I taste and adjust, taste and adjust, you add something. So you work with it, and the dish takes ahold of you, too. Cooking and painting can live in harmony together. Both are different expressions of who I am, and both enhance my life considerably.”

The Artistry of Jacques Pépin will feature over 70 works of art from the past five decades. The exhibit runs through Jan. 30 at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center. The opening reception with Pépin is Thursday, Dec. 2, from 4 to 7 p.m.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series “Where Art Thou?” Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of “Morning Edition”, and later of “All Things Considered.”
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