How do our vices define us? These are more than just guilty pleasures. They are the things that we don’t admit to in public but look for in our alone time. They are what we know to be unethical, inappropriate, or even unsightly, yet satisfies our inner urges. At times it seems as if there are two sides to our darkest desires and secrets. There are those that we share with others, an unspoken kindred connection. But there are also many vices that are ours alone. We hold on to them for comfort and solace, as well as for our self-masochism. The more hurt, embarrassed, and damaged we feel after we give in to them, the more we want to continue with the game.
There are several kinds of destructive actions we can engage in behind closed doors, but what about those that we know are wrong yet provide such pleasure that we can’t help ourselves? How do we live with ourselves after recurring to these nasty solutions to cure our anxiety, desperation, or boredom?
Mike Hughes is an illustrator that creates colorful and outrageous scenarios that deal with one of our greatest vices: food. Through his use of characters that are as grotesque as they are hilarious, he presents us with a surreal mirror image of our darkest indulgences.
We all need food to survive. Yet, to what extent is it acceptable to acquire food that comes from suspicious origins, whether it’s fast-food mystery meat or a particular delicacy that can endanger an entire ecosystem or region?
When speaking about the themes he is interested in portraying, the artist explained, “Gluttony is something that just happens and you justify it later, good or bad. I think I’m most interested in that point, the stage at which things can go either way. It’s more about the way a situation feels than, say, the logical or moral aftermath.”
However, it’s not just about food. Our relationship with what is supposed to be nourishment rather than an enabler of our dark side is symbolic. It represents the way we relate to other elements around us. Unhealthy food options that are easy to find and cheap to acquire are only some of the elements that tell the story of our decline as a civilization.
Hughes comments on this as well, “We are all living in a bit of a moral deficit, smart phones made by modern day slaves. Food that is harvested en masse in an unpalatable way. Social constructs that have been warped and turned into weapons that divide. There’s an uncomfortable line we all must walk in this day and age.”
But the artist admits that he is not interested in using his work as a way of pointing fingers, blaming, or judging. He lets the pictures tell the story: instead of telling viewers how they should act or how to think about a particular situation, he offers his interpretations of what he sees, leaving it up to them to decide what they believe.
In fact, his decision to reserve his personal judgments, comes from his admittance to being human and prone to succumbing to his own desires as well. “I know all too well the pleasure and regret of consuming something that is bad for me and comes from a questionable source. Yet somehow it’s justified.”
It’s easy to think that our secretive lifestyle is ours alone. But what if our collective tendencies point to a bigger issue? Is it possible that what we’re ashamed of desiring is a symptom of our problems as a society? Do our gross habits shine a light on the greater implications of our dependency to the artificial?
“I think that’s what I’m looking for, to draw the audience in with saturated colour and intricate drawing and fill them up. I think most people will just see a pretty picture. But for those that take the time to study what’s going on there should be a sinking feeling. Something not quite right.”
In fact, we can’t help but look at these illustrations and get the same mouth-watering reaction we get when we see an ad for food we wouldn’t consume otherwise. The colors and the aesthetic take us by surprise, driving us to observe the image in detail and be faced with the commentary that does not dictate what we should believe but instead leads us to reflect on ourselves and our drives.