A Piece of Cake

F. Scott Hess
A Piece of Cake
Oil on canvas, 1986
68 x 96 inches
Gift of the Richard H. Mumper Trust
1994.117

F. Scott Hess is a Los Angeles-based realist painter whose work explores varied themes based on popular culture. Hess also bases many of his works on autobiographical material, but, according to the artist, few are as directly autobiographical as A Piece of Cake (1986). Hess based the painting on the events at a party he attended in downtown Los Angeles in the mid-1980s. Late in the evening, an African American woman arrived at the party looking for a “friend,” but clearly knew no one there. Shortly after her arrival, she announced she had been raped. Some of the few remaining partygoers offered her the last of the leftovers, a piece of cake, while others interrogated her with a variety of questions. Hess recalls, “The night was a racial, sexual whirlwind, and I knew in that moment it would be a painting.” Hess went back to the apartment to capture the exact details of the kitchen and used the same party guests as models, but the artist invented the African American woman at the center of the painting from his memory of the night’s incident.

Hess notes, “My painting style at the time was rough, and the planes consisted of very active blobs of color laid down next to others, sometimes compliments. The idea was to activate the surface, to make it writhe and seethe, as if heated from underneath. Then I’d set the viewer up in the air, in an impossible place, almost imposing vertigo. The intent was to leave the viewer in an unstable spot, suspended above this bubbling paint. I didn’t want to soothe, but to disturb, with the hope of spurring the viewer to think more deeply about what they were looking at.”