For this week's Headout, "Milkism," we had Arizona-based photographer Ernie Button make a landscape solely out of dairy products.

That’s not quite as weird as it sounds.

Button has some experience creating and photographing food-based sculpture, as you can see in his show Cerealism, open now through February 22 at Northwest Portland's Camerawork Gallery

 Button’s breakfast cereal landscapes—fields of marshmallow clover and Egyptian pyramids made of Cherrios—have been a web hit, getting attention from Gawker and Wired magazine

Button’s continual quest is to discover extraordinary inspiration in the mundane. Grocery shopping and dishwashing become works of art under his eye. Moving beyond bran flakes, Button’s new fascination is with patterns formed in the dried dregs of a Single Malt Scotch glass. He finds “terrestrial or extraterrestrial” landscapes, even “the celestial” in dirty dishes. 

What we think: magically delicious. 

WW: Cerealism has received a lot of media coverage—why do you think it's caught on? 

Breakfast cereal seems to be one of those items that most of us remember fondly from our childhoods. This project tries to strike the right mix of a few things: the nostalgia of childhood memories, the playful nod to playing with your food, since most of us were told not to play with our food, and the absurd, out-of-context landscapes that look strikingly real. 

How did you get into cereal as an art form? 

The genesis for Cerealism was a trip to the grocery store; there sat King Vitamin (a popular cereal from the 70’s) next to a new version of Cap’n Crunch, Choco Donuts. Looking at the rest of the cereal aisle, it was clear that breakfast cereal had changed from when I was a child. The cereal aisle has become a cornucopia of colors with marshmallows that resemble people and objects and characters from movies. It’s apparent that cereal is not just food anymore; it’s playtime. In keeping with the playtime theme, I began to construct landscapes that would utilize the natural earth tones of certain cereals.

Being from Arizona, some of the more adult cereals that are mostly bran or fiber resemble the Southwestern desert. I placed enlarged photographs of actual Arizona skies (sunsets or monsoon clouds) in the background of the cereal landscapes giving the final image an odd sense of ‘reality’. Other cereals that were more vibrantly colored or made to resemble people and objects were calling out to have their portraits taken, to be the center of attention. Cereal has evolved into pop culture objects instead of just corn pops.

Even though I don’t consume cereal that much anymore, I still find breakfast cereal fascinating on an aesthetic level: is it food, is it entertainment, is it nourishment, is it really a dessert or is it all of the above? 

What is your favorite childhood cereal? 

Cap’n Crunch. Such a unique taste to that cereal. 

What cereal mascot would you be if you could? 

Even though it’d be cool to be the Cap’n, I’d probably go with Lucky from Lucky Charms; the pot of gold is very enticing. And being able to say Magically Delicious whenever I want would be cool too. 

How did you wind up with a show here in Portland? 

I met Scott Jones (who is the director at the Camerawork Gallery in Portland) at Photolucida in 2011. Photolucida occurs every other year in Portland and it’s an opportunity for photographers and galleries/curators, etc. to get together and review photography in the form of portfolio reviews. He appreciated the obvious humor and the more subtle subtext of nutrition and what we eat. Portland is a fantastic city for photography. This April will be the month of Photography in Portland and Photolucida will be occurring again during that month. 

Do you have artistic interests in any other food group? 

Ironically I do. I guess it would be more of a liquid though. There is a project that is gaining some popularity entitled “Vanishing Spirits: The Dried Remains of Single Malt Scotch.” The idea for this project occurred while putting a used Scotch glass into the dishwasher. I noted a film on the bottom of a glass and when I inspected closer, I noted these fine, lacey lines filling the bottom. What I found through some experimentation is that these patterns and images that you see can be created with the small residue of Single-Malt Scotch left in a glass after most of it has been consumed. The alcohol dries and leaves the sediment in various patterns. It’s a little like snowflakes in that every time the Scotch dries, the glass yields different patterns and results. I have used different color lights to add color to the bottom of the glass, creating the illusion of landscape, terrestrial or extraterrestrial. Some of the images reference the celestial, as if the image was taken of space; something that the Hubble telescope may have taken or an image taken from space looking down on Earth. The circular image references a drinking glass, typically circular, and what the consumer might see if they were to look at the bottom of the glass after the scotch has dried. 

Has Cerealism changed the way you look at food? 
Absolutely. A project like this makes me more aware of the beauty in the ordinary things surrounding me. Food is something that we see and consume on a daily basis. It’s easy to overlook anything that we do on a daily basis. It’s made me aware of texture & shape, trying to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. 

Grocery store inspirations? 
There was a project that I completed a few years ago entitled Back & Forth. The grocery store rides that many of us enjoyed as children are slowly disappearing from the urban landscape. That mechanical horse or the spaceship ride made a trip to the grocery store bearable as a child but now seems hard to find. On the surface, the thought of searching for and photographing coin-operated grocery store rides appears to be fun and superficial. But many economic and societal factors played into the absent rides. They seem to be very hard to find now, at least in the Phoenix area. 

What do you do when not working on photography? 

I have the privilege of working with the veteran population at a VA Hospital in Phoenix as a Speech-Language Pathologist.

GO: See Ernie Button’s Cerealism at Camerawork Gallery, 2255 NW Northrup St., 9 am-5 pm Monday-Saturday. See more of Button’s work