Dell Stewart — Fruit Salad

Posted on March 19, 2015

Dell Stewart shares notes from a fruit bat.

I have pages of failed and finished lists that get gradually smothered with fruit stickers. Collecting them has become a preoccupation. The colours and patterns that emerge have evolved into a series of prints, both on paper and objects. The possible arrangements keep multiplying. The process echoes my laboriously filled school diaries, dutifully coloured with a blanket of texta illustrations, repetitive patterns and extravagant bubble writing.

A love of fruit is hardwired into us humans. Fruit is the embodiment of nature’s generosity and bounty, and harvest is a keenly anticipated time. Research has shown picking fruit releases dopamine — strongly associated with the reward system of the brain, triggering a state of bliss or mild euphoria. We’ve evolved with a survival high that traces back to 200,000 years of hunter-gathering. Perhaps if we have had an upbringing that engages it, it enables us a lifetime of seeking out the feel-good rush of a harvest. I come from a long line of fruit bats with an ability to sniff out any nearby ripening fruit. I’ve preserved laneway plums, apricots, oranges, feijoas, figs and persimmons.

Growing up in the country meant we had fruit when it was ripe on nearby trees. We would stop on the way home from school to raid particularly loaded guava and mandarin trees on the side of the road. Being the tropics we had bananas, pawpaws, custard apples, guavas, sapotes, sour sops, rollinias, five corners, mulberries, lychees, jaboticabas — as well as oranges and mandarins. On school holidays you could easily lose a day up a mandarin tree building nests and ad hoc shelters, and exclusively eating the sweet fruits.

I know apples are probably the least exotic fruit in the lunchbox, but I feel like I ate only five apples in my life before I was 13. Then I visited my aunt in Tasmania and feasted on them, along with cherries, raspberries and apricots, for the first time. This seems so quaint now, when I live within walking distance of two fresh food markets, an organic greengrocer and three different supermarkets. Fruit has become a product we buy when we desire it — regardless of season or locality — and apples are everywhere, always, as they keep and travel well.

Apple stickers are the first I remember; a friend regularly stickered me with pink lady stickers at lunchtime. You have to do something with them. I read on the internet somewhere that they are edible, but I trust that information as much as I trust the internet. I know they don’t break down in the compost, as they appear in my vegetable garden in spite of my own attempts to inter them elsewhere. They are insidious little things, and the branding of the simplest produce with unnecessary packaging seems a small sign of the end times.

So, the stickers represent the antithesis of my dream of a backyard orchard, trees laden with abundant fruit. That said, stickers must also trigger dopamine. Just ask any kid with a sticker reward chart. STICKERS! So many types. Such pretty colours. And so I collect them, and they reflect where I was, what fruit was around, and what had an interesting sticker. The collection records a season; I have evidence that 2013 was a good year for peaches. I also get nostalgic for places that appear on stickers, the limes and mangoes that come from North Queensland make me a little homesick every time, and pawpaws are the worst for this.

Their variety appeals to the bowerbird in me, I find myself seeking new and different colours, and new and different fruits. I have started sticking new ones on white paper in order to photograph them and use them. The fruit salad scarves are the first in this series. Printing stickers on silk is surprisingly satisfying; the trompe-l’œil on silk subverts the innate trashy materiality of the stickers. Rainbow is just a beginning — I will keep adding to this, as long as they keep making coloured stickers.

There is something satisfying and complete about a full spectrum. I always felt better when the pencils went back in the box in order. Even as a kid I regretted sticking stickers on most things. They have a truly crappy quality about them, and never peel off properly. My siblings and I have a history of destroying pieces of timber furniture by covering them in awful stickers. It feels like the only solution for those cupboards might be to burn them, but that goes against the make-do-and-mend philosophy of the parental home. By comparison, a notebook is a harmless place to stick them. And a jumper covered in them is somehow delightful.

Dell Stewart
is a graduate of James Cook University and RMIT University.

Buy a limited edition print of Overcoat Seasonal Collection: Summer here.

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