Using his skills at detail and aesthetics as pastry chef, Rick Griggs moves his art from the plate to the canvas

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer [email protected]

PIECE OF CAKE | Former pastry chef Rick Griggs now produces work that won’t be gobbled up — he comes out as an artist with his first solo show Saturday. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)
PIECE OF CAKE | Former pastry chef Rick Griggs now produces work that won’t be gobbled up — he comes out as an artist with his first solo show Saturday. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Cameron Gallery,
1414 Dragon St. Oct. 16–Nov. 18. Opening night reception at
6 p.m.


Call it an identity crisis or a leap of faith, but Rick Griggs has his mind made up. With more than two decades of experience as a pastry chef, Griggs is in the midst of a career change. Earlier this year, he switched away from regimented hours of working in a restaurant to the nebulous schedule of a full-time artist. And with that move came a bundle of nerves and uncertainty.

“I’m nervous in the monetary sense, not getting a regular paycheck,” Griggs says. “But it’s also exciting. It’s like an adventure —  you don’t know how it’s going to unfold. That’s part of the fun of it. Not knowing is a little bit nerve-wracking. But I tend to be a free spirit.”

This week Griggs will have his first solo show, Out of the Blue, at the Cameron Gallery in the Design District, marking a fairly significant moment for him. His artwork has been featured in local magazines and hangs in prominent public spaces and Dallas homes, but this is sort of his coming out moment as an artist. After years of building up a reputation as a quality pastry chef, he now has to reinvent and reintroduce himself to the local scene. But he’s got a head start.

“I show at Abacus and Jasper’s,” he says. “They have my work on rotation.”

“Rick has always been one of the greatest pastry chefs I’ve ever worked with and turns out, he’s an incredible artist as well,” says Kent Rathbun, the chef who was Griggs’ boss for eight years at Abacus. Rathbun himself is an art lover; his Plano restaurant, Jasper’s, was named after its inspiration, the gay artist Jasper Johns.

But it was not until Rathbun’s annual Dallas Art Party this year that Griggs seriously planned a change. Although he had been working on his art and selling it, pursuing his passion as a career was the next step for him to move forward. But really, he’d been living his dream for 20 years.

“This really was a natural progression,” he says. “My eye  became more refined in doing pastry work. Your vision changes as far as what you’re doing and I think if I’d started painting in 1984, I’d be doing different things now. With that time and learning technique, I think I’d be more layered, a better artist.”

There is a relation, though, between his pastry work and his painting — which means he could be a better artist than he gives himself credit for.

“I see a lot of similarities,” says Griggs. ”I use a palette knife because I realize there is a technique similar to  putting icing on a cake. A lot of my work also has that splattered paint like I’ve used with sauces. It’s a lot of the same fluidity and control.”

Griggs’ creative streak stretches back to his youth. His father worked in a very specific design world: archery. Being around that, Griggs got used to working with wood and paints. He says that was part of the foundation for his interest in art and also home restoration.

Griggs calls these subliminal influences which are coming out now in his work.

Griggs says it’s hard for him to explain his art. Visually, it’s abstract with geometric sensibilities. But interestingly, he says they are spontaneous and even reactionary. They are preconceived ideas or visuals but manifested into something altogether different when he begins each piece.

“I’d say it’s very intuitional and responsive. The paintings are a very subliminal rendering or an abstraction that could be relative to organic landscapes or architectural renderings,” he says.

Griggs’ culinary career began in 1984 and took him to Miami, New Orleans and Athens, then brought him back to Dallas and The Mansion on Turtle Creek before going to Abacus. Still, Griggs doesn’t think he’s leaving food behind.

“I still will dabble in food,” he says. “I have thought about opening my own business. Just as long as I can paint.”

“The intersection between art and food is basically the same — it’s a stimulus for people,” Rathbun says. “Rick has the ability to trigger two senses, which I think it truly unique and fascinating.”

Part of his personal plan is to begin his own coffee shop/gallery where his two passions can merge together. Which is an interesting notion considering what he says has pushed him to concentrating on the visual arts.

“I’ve always loved interiors and cool spaces and museums and I think the permanence of a painting versus the impermanence of food really drove me,” Griggs says. “I can spend hours and hours creating a food product that will disappear in moments, but a painting is everlasting. To me, there is a lot of reward in that.”

Griggs is working on getting the last pieces hung and then, once the show starts, he’s at the mercy of the art-loving universe.

“The exciting part is seeing how people react to it,” he says. “But I also wanna sell the art and that’s the most nerve-wracking. You have to sell to continue to produce.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.