Art takes many forms, but it is rarely delicious. That is until you delve into the work of Bridgehampton homeowner and food artist Harley Langberg who has made shopping for produce an entirely different kind of experience.
Often whimsical and always labor-intensive, Langberg’s creations have been delighting fans online for seven years. He began sharing his compositions made purely of food on Facebook in 2013 before eventually moving to Instagram where his @harleysfood_art account’s popularity exploded, earning nearly 38,000 followers, along with paid commissions, print sales and a series of marketing partnerships with brands known around the world.
He’s created work for Illy coffee — which was featured at Lincoln Center during the 2014 New York Film Festival — Jagermeister, Green Giant, Doubleday Books, Billboard, Red Vines licorice, Wilson tennis, Little Caesars pizza, Men’s Health magazine, MTV and many others, not to mention all his creations that have appeared in books and periodicals or been featured by some of the biggest social media accounts on Instagram. Google even used one of Langberg’s images for the company’s profile picture.
Langberg’s food art covers such a wide swath of subject matter, it’s easy to see how he found such a massive following. He uses shaped, chopped, peeled, sliced, smeared and whole ingredients to make everything from celebrity and animal portraits — and sometimes even celebrity animal portraits — to landscapes, re-creations of famous works of art and pop culture icons, to characters from cartoons and movies, and so much more.
A quick scroll through Langberg’s Instagram feed will reveal pictures of horror icons such as Michael Myers (Halloween) and Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th); Jaws movie posters made from gummy candy, or strawberries, plums and cookie dough; a Squid Game “pink soldier” guard built from Fruit by the Foot, tortilla, eggplant and dyed cookie dough; re-creations of Matisse, Picasso, Mondrian and Haring paintings; three-dimensional sushi, pancakes and pizza, each plated on half an Oreo and sculpted solely from the cream (tinted with food coloring); a New York City skyline made of vegetables; and hundreds of other mind-boggling builds.
“I draw my inspiration from multiple different sources. A lot of the time I’ll focus it around a holiday,” Langberg says, explaining how he makes Thanksgiving or Christmas images during the holiday season, and horror images around Halloween. “Or if there’s something in the news, a current event I want to touch on, I’ll do something on that. Or I’ll do a celebrity birthday portrait for that particular day,” he continues, describing how he made a piece to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 this year. He also enjoys making animals.
Unless it’s a commission, Langberg says he makes what he likes and doesn’t usually spend time worrying about what his followers want to see. “At the end of the day I’m doing this for me because it’s my time and my money, and I want to create things that I like, so when Halloween comes around every year, not everyone likes and appreciates the scary horror movies, but I do, so I spend a whole month creating all the scary creations.”
Though Langberg is occasionally inspired by a particular ingredient, the food artist says he typically decides on the image he’s going to make first, and then figures out the best way to accomplish his vision.
“A lot of times I’ll take my phone and the image, and stand in the produce aisle for like 40 minutes trying to see what would be best,” he says. “I love going to Whole Foods or King Kullen because when I’m out in the Hamptons, King Kullen has such a great selection. I’ll just really comb the whole produce section looking for the right ingredients,” Langberg explains. “There are times when I say, ‘I want to use this steamed shrimp dumpling,’ and I’ll just see what works, but most times I’ll really know what I want to create and I have to see what textures and colors match up best with which ingredients.”
This level of focus and commitment to his craft has paid off well for Langberg over the years. While he continues to work in finance and still calls food art a hobby — albeit one that comes with a small income — his skills have improved significantly through the better part of a decade. Langberg never deletes old posts, so he’s able to track his progress simply by scrolling through his pictures on Instagram.
“I often go back and I look at pieces I’ve done a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, at the beginning, and I definitely see the photo quality is getting better because we have better phones now,” Langberg says, pointing out that his shots are technically superior, with better lighting and editing. More importantly, the work has improved. “I just feel that I’ve become more detailed, more realistic and brought into the range of ingredients things that you’d consider outside the box. So I definitely notice a progression, and I really enjoy seeing that,” he continues.
“Everything is about growth. Even though I go back now and say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that’s what I created.’ I like to see that progression and everybody has to start somewhere,” Langberg says. “What I think isn’t so good now, back then I thought was amazing and so did other people, so there’s no reason to change my opinion of it. And I also encourage other aspiring food artists that you have to start at the beginning and get better. You don’t just one day create a masterpiece.”
He’s achieved so much, but Langberg says he has yet to reach all of his goals. Lately, he’s spent a lot of time improving his Oreo cream sculpting ability, but he’s now turning his focus toward portraits.
Langberg has done some masterful representations of celebrities, including a stunning image of fashion icon Iris Apfel in celebration of her 100th birthday this year, but Langberg says he really wants to make successful images of regular people using only food. “Celebrities are very distinctive so you kind of know who it is — but if I can just capture a regular person, I think that would be a really big achievement. I don’t think I’m quite there yet, but I’m hoping to get there at some point.”
It should be noted that Apfel liked one of his previous portraits of her so much she used it in her book Accidental Icon, and his portrait of The Kitchen host Sunny Anderson was featured in Food Network Magazine. So he’s doing something right.
In the meantime, Langberg is continuing to do what he does best, and he’s getting better, while his presence grows bigger, all the time. “It’s something I’m very passionate about and something that I’ll be doing forever, until I get arthritis,” he says.