It is an intriguing and brilliant piece that serves as a visual conceit on the marathon taper. Clearly what we are seeing here is the work of a master. It is apparent that the artist is paying homage to the classic Flemish still life tradition however the sober imagery of severely burnt toast suggests the gloom that permeates postmodern still lifes.
The image of burnt toast never fails to rattle the soul. It is a meal wasted; carbs rendered inedible. To a marathoner in the taper for who "carbo loading" is the very essence of being there is nothing more macabre than a wasted carb loaded meal: Even one as simple as buttered toast.
Admittedly burnt toast is a very tired symbol. So over used in both painting and literature that it has evolved as a modern cliche for "burn out". However in this particular taper piece the artist has in some sense "reinvented the wheel" by using the burnt toast to be representative of the leg muscles rather than the runner as a whole.
More specifically, the burnt toast is referring to the lower calf muscles. You can tell this is the intention because the toast is cut on the diagonal rather than left whole or simply halved. Clearly this diagonal cut is symbolizing the angles of a well developed calf. And the fact that there are two pieces of toast, both equally burnt, suggests the "burn out" is severe. This is supported by the darkness of the toast. Aside from the black and deep sepia color, the exaggeration of the toastedness is additionally depicted with visible brush strokes and heavy handed paint on the toast whereas in other areas of the painting there is a lighter touch. The effect is genius as the viewer can see, almost taste, how unpalatable the toast is. It is that burnt.
The image of the butter certainly holds a special place in the postmodern still life pantheon. The artist's choice of butter as a spread is referring to the appetite that rages in the marathon taper.
Butter, long revered as a symbol of fat, is communicating the potential weight gain that is a direct result of marathon tapering. It is also telling of how the body is so "freaked out" that there just might be another 4 hour run looming in the near future that the body is desperate for nutrients, calories, fat. Certainly, the butter depicted here is a nod to survival instinct and to the human body's anthropological need to hoard fat. Not to mention the tapering marathoner's appetite-- for who this meal was prepared-- is probably completely out of control. At first glance it does appear that the butter speaks nothing of the water retention that is wrecking havoc on the marathoner's usually chiseled physique; but upon closer examination we can only assume that the butter used here is of the salted variety.
Finally we would be remiss if we did not touch briefly on the artist's choice of a still life to depict the madness and despair that so often punctuates the marathon taper. Without a doubt this is very telling of the workouts embodied in the marathon taper: Like a still life they are inanimate, artificial and mundane. . .
Blah, blah blah. . .
Uhm, soooooo . . . .this week has sucked.
I am as burnt and stale as a piece of toast.
Oh yeah, and I am getting fat. . . mmm, butter.
I won't bother with the specifics of the breakdown cause it ain't pretty but here are the totals:
Running: (hangs head in mortal shame) 30 miles O.M.G.
Cycling: 42 miles
Swimming: 3 miles
Walking/hiking: 2.5 miles
Moving on. With the emphasis on the "moving" and the(being)"on" parts.
Still managed to be streaking.
Carmella has strep throat.
I need a job.