Fresh way for artists to earn their crust

  • @matildbattersby

Artists are often the toast of the town. But Maurice Bennett, one of New Zealand's most celebrated artists, is known as the "toast man" of the town because he creates vast mosaics from thousands of slices of toast. An exhibition of his rugby player portraits, made out of toast, opens at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington, in September, to coincide with the Rugby World Cup.

Bennett came up with the toast mosaic idea back in 1998 when he saw a picture by the American artist Chuck Close in a magazine. Looking at the cleverly pixelated likeness, Bennett thought: 'This picture could be done in slices of toast.'

As a supermarket owner, with access to plenty of wholesale loaves, Bennett got out the toaster and started grilling bread into different shades and laid them out on his living room floor. "The guys came in and started making comments like, Did that idea just pop into your head?' and 'You'll make a lot of dough out of this.' So I knew straight away I was on to a winning formula," he said.

In the last decade, all sorts of celebrities, including Simon Cowell, Elvis Presley and Dame Edna, have had their faces rendered on twice-cooked dough.

There have been some staggering pieces of artistry using toast such as Adam Sheldon's 6ft-tall version of Christ's Crucifixion. You might have seen Nathan Wyburn from Abergavenny using his skill with a butter knife to create a portrait of talent show judge Michael McIntyre in toast and Marmite live on ITV show Britain's Got Talent earlier this year.

Another British toast artist, Lennie Payne, had an exhibition at the Maverik Showroom in London in May and exhibited a painting of a Heinz Baked Beans can on bread – a brilliant literal rendition of beans on toast. While Laura Hadland from Leicester broke the Guinness World Record for the biggest toast mosaic in 2010, and more recently tackled Leonardo Da Vinci's famous muse Mona Lisa for a huge toast mural in Matera, Italy's "city of bread", using more than 10,000 slices.

And with 540,000 tonnes of bread wasted in the UK annually, according to the Waste & Resources Action Programme, there are worse things to be done than for art to be made of it. Perhaps sandwich art will catch on next?

Maurice Bennett's A Game of Two Halves: the Art of Cliché, New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington ( 10 September to 16 October