Art and chocolate have such a symbiotic relationship, with chocolatiers putting an equal measure of creativity and care into their packaging as they do the provenance of the chocolate and flavour pairings. Pennsylvania based, Nathan Miller Chocolate is a great example of this with their organically styled labels with what looks like pulpy hand-made papers and watercolour illustrations, minimalistic and natural. Nathan Miller has also collaborated with celebrated abstract artist Heather Chontos, to create a 3 bar collection built through intuition and impulse, painting each label in her Portland, Maine studio.
Heather find's her voice through her work as an artist. As a child she suffered from an illness which caused her to become blind for a year, giving her a different perspective and appreciation for light and colour. Her sight recovered, but she continues to her explore the world in great colour and works tirelessly to understand the fine balance of the beauty within a strong palette.
"I have struggled my entire life to find my own strength looking inward and through my fine art practice of painting I am profoundly confident in my own intuition and impulses. I do not approach my medium with fear or hesitation, rather I am certain of every gesture I make. I find comfort in the unusual beauty of abstraction, there is an ambiguity and unwillingness to conform".
Fascinated by how wonderfully Heather's abstract work fitted with Nathan's chocolate, I spoke to Heather about her collaboration, finding out how she visually explored flavour in her artwork.
FB: How did the Nathan Miller chocolate collaboration come about?
HC: I live in Portland, Maine and we have this lovely little shop, bakery/café in the west end called Aurora Provisions. It is very near to my youngest daughters school so we go there often for treats. I immediately fell in love with the brightly coloured packaging of the NMC chocolate bars and of course bought a few to try at home. You opened up this bold colourful package to find what could only be described as a “Willy Wonka” style coloured foil lining, and then, of course you get to the best part, his perfectly delicious and scrumptious chocolate . It was such an amazing flavour, perfect in every way, so I thought maybe I could make something with them. I was quite inspired! So I got in touch with Nathan and Charlotte and asked if I could paint something for their packaging. They got back to me and we enthusiastically got collaborating. They are geniuses and I am very grateful to be a part of something so beautiful!
FB: Did you choose the flavour combinations for the bars in your collection? And if so, how on earth did you narrow it down to these 3 fantastic flavours?
HC: It was hard… but I made my selection according to what my brain wanted in colours, associated with the flavours. One of them I had not tasted yet, the “cherry pretzel”, but I love rich reds so I thought it would be good fun to work on I thought. Charlotte came up with the idea to do a 3 flavour special edition pack, which worked out great for me to make more packaging options. I am glad I didn’t have to choose one, that would have killed me!
FB: Apart from the Nathan Miller project, does food or flavour ever influence your work?
HC: I have a huge passion for gastronomy and I love how much the world pays attention to food now and to the design that goes along with it. It’s a very special relationship. I worked for years in food publications, commercials and cookbooks, and I still do from time to time , so food has influenced a lot of my creative work over the years. There is a lot of colour and flavour to inspire creativity. I really want to do some wine and beer labels. I would have a lot of fun with that!
FB: Do you feel that having lost your sight for a year of your childhood enhanced your taste and in which case did it help you to create artwork that really captured the flavour moods?
HC: Yes, you nailed it, taste is a huge sense for me. When I lost my sight my other senses kicked in to overdrive. My hearing was incredible, my sense of smell and of course taste. I have a very intense memory association with taste and smell in particular, which go hand in hand. My work is abstract, but it is very representative of my various senses at work. I am creating a body of work currently that will be very much about the senses and understanding the loss of some of them, as I am now also deaf in one ear, my hearing is compromised. It is a strange position to be in, to understand the loss of sight in particular and then have the great opportunity to have it back. I am very fortunate to have that perspective and yes, it has influenced me enormously.
FB: What was your creative process for creating the artwork for the labels, did you have to approach it differently to how you would approach a painting?
HC: I didn’t do anything differently other than be inspired by the colours that I felt the flavours wanted to be.
FB: Was it important to eat copious amounts of chocolate to get you in the right mood, for research purposes of course ;)?
HC: I did! It was the best research ever!!
FB: What influenced the finished artwork for the labels, was it in the taste or in the ingredients/provenance?
HC: I would say it was more the name that was given to the particular chocolate bar. The “cherry+ pretzel”, which obviously has a clear indication of ingredients when you read the package was a more direct ingredient reference. “Everything” (which is my favourite bagel, being a New Yorker and all) and “salt + wafer “(which reminded me of the sea in Maine, where I live now) were names that I could get into because of what they made me think of.
FB: What's next for you, have you any other exciting collaborations in the pipeline?
HC: I have talked to a few wine makers, but nothing solid yet, I hope to get another collaboration going though. I really love the translation of flavour into artwork. Otherwise I am always painting, creating new work, and sharing it with people that love what I do.
HC: I love this quote by Pablo Picasso – “the meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away”
FB: You appear to travel quite a bit with your work? Where in the world are your favourite places to eat, any gems you'd like to share?
HC: SO many favourite places! Actually,I am moving with my two daughters to Barcelona tomorrow! We have packed up our lives and are heading to Spain, which is like a second home for me. Of course, Spain has the most incredible food so I will be quite happy to be there!! I love Thailand and the amazing flavours of Southeast Asia. Australia has an amazing and eclectic culinary world to explore. Denmark is another big favourite! Borough market in London, Mexico, California, uuum just so many places!
The Heather Chontos 3 Bar Collection
Pretzel + Cherry : made with 55% buttermilk chocolate from Oko Caribe direct trade organic cacao, salty pretzel and dried tart cherry.
Salt + Wafer : made with 45% buttermilk chocolate from Oko Caribe direct trade organic cacao with a tangy and salty flavour. Crispy wager and Himalayan pink salt.
Everything : made with 55% buttermilk chocolate from Oko Caribe direct trade organic cacao, buttermilk, house toffee, roasted almond and candied ginger.