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Northwest artist turns his painting into a functioning ant farm

Jack Gunter
Jack Gunter's picnic still life, being consumed by ants.


This story originally aired on Janary 5, 2019.

Northwest artist Jack Gunter uses an ancient painting technique called egg tempera — a mixture of dry pigment and egg yolk. The paint can last for centuries, but it does have one downside. “Six or seven different species of animals will eat my paintings,” he says.

That includes rats nibbling at the tops and bottoms of canvases, a particularly talented banana slug that ate a looping swath of destruction across one painting (Jack named it “Slugcasso”) … and then, there are the ants.

After noticing a trio of carpenter ants feasting on a painting one day, Jack was inspired to make the ants his unlikely collaborators. He painted a still-life portrait of a picnic spread on a blanket, glazing some of the choicer food items with honey, and constructed a special ant-farm wood frame.

When he showed it at a food-related art show, it became what had to be one of the first works of art intended to be viewed even as it was being digested.


Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.