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Edible Bonsai: East Meets West On These Cookie Canvases

Risa Hirai is a Japanese artist who paints detailed images of bonsai trees and Japanese meals. But instead of using paint on a canvas, she works with icing on a cookie.

The 23-year-old is a senior at Tama Art University in Tokyo, whose mouthwatering works will be exhibited at Gallery Tokyo Humanite all this week. Assistant director Maie Tsukuda tells The Salt it's the gallery's first cookie exhibit and notes that it's not an ordinary medium for artists.

"I started making these cookies as presents to my friends," Hirai told The Salt via email (Tsukuda helped translate). "I had painted in oils until then, but I became so into making cookies and began to think that this could be a form of expression as art."

Hirai paints various things like animals, flowers and jewelry, but because she's especially interested in juxtaposing "Japanese style" motifs on a Western material (cookies), many bonsai, sushi, Daruma dolls and a one-pot meal called sukiyaki.

But are they truly edible?

"I often eat them," Hirai says. "Those exhibited for a while cannot be eaten, so I keep them displayed. But I eat other cookies with friends or give them to someone as a gift."

Her canvases are usually vanilla-flavored, but she sometimes mixes things up with a cocoa, green tea or cinnamon base. After making the dough, she cuts it into the appropriate shapes (something a little more abstract than a gingerbread man) and bakes. Her icing is purely sugar, egg whites and food coloring, and like any other icing decorator, her tools are pastry bags with variously shaped tips.

When she graduates from Tama, Hirai is off to confectionery school, so she can further explore the possibilities of the medium. She isn't sure what she'll do after that — sell her cookies, decorate for special occasions, or put on more exhibitions — but she hopes people will be able to enjoy her work with more senses than just sight.

"I really want audiences to enjoy my works," Hirai says. "By using senses of smell and taste, I hope my works become memorable."

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