Usually when we’re presented with a steaming bowl of fresh pasta, we’re not thinking about much else other than eating it. Whether we’re scoffing mac-n-cheese “cupcakes” or plating elegantly crafted tagliatelli with scallops and artichokes, Italy’s beloved staple invariably ends up well and truly devoured.
Not so, however, if you’re Linda Nicholson, aka SaltySeattle, the Seattle-based artist who’s garnered a considerable Instagram following for using pasta as a medium for her technicoloured artistic images.
It all started at the age of 3, when Nicholson began making her own pasta from scratch. Years later, her skill would come to provide a creative solution to a problem many mothers face every day. “I started making pasta at a young age, but I didn’t think of mixing multiple kinds of dough to make patterns and designs until my then-picky son flat out refused to eat vegetables,” she tells SBS. “I tucked brightly-hued vegetables, fruits and superfoods into pasta dough, and the rest is history.”
Adding whole new meaning to the concept of playing with food, Nicholson, also know as takes inspiration from news and current affairs, popular culture and high fashion to create her carb-heavy masterpieces. Her pasta dough is coloured using plant-based dyes (like harissa and turmeric), and then shaped with the help of implements like knitting needles, or a traditional Italian chitarra – a wooden device used to slice pasta.
In this short video, Nicholson explains her process of drawing inspiration from the natural world, working it into her creations.
“Inspiration is everywhere,” Nicholson tells SBS. “I love the art and textile worlds and I treat pasta much the same way a designer would fabric. I take pictures of strangers’ clothing all the time – I get some seriously weird looks. I am also inspired by current events, politics, pop culture and patterns in nature. I never stop seeking inspiration, and boy does it ever seem to find me right back. My 'to-make' list has over 50 ideas on it currently, if only there were more hours in the day!"
Nicholson recreates famous artworks with delicately-shaped spaghetti, uses ravioli in a nod to famous literature and TV shows, and even makes ‘pasta-wear’ – actual clothes made out of lasagne sheets.
Her favourite creation to date is Van Gogh’s Starry Night. “It was probably the most challenging work I’ve created, and I wasn’t really sure it would come out until I finished and looked at it with fresh eyes.”
Of course, Nicholson isn’t the only one whose pasta is undergoing a renaissance…
Instagram users are experimenting with pasta in colourful hues and abstract shapes, constantly reimagining a food item many of us thought was only designed for one purpose – being a delicious base for all manner of sauces.
What do traditional Italians think of all this so-called pasta art? “I lived in Italy for a few years and made pasta frequently while I was there,” Nicholson says. “I still have tons of Italian friends, most of whom totally embrace what I do. Certainly at first it can seem shocking to such a traditional society, but at the end of the day, most everyone is powerless to resist the sway of slurpy, colourful noodles!”
Perhaps smothering it with cheese and eating a wonderfully large bowl in one sitting aren’t the only things one can do with pasta after all.
Follow SaltySeattle and her foray into pasta art here, and keep an eye out for her book, due out in 2018.