How Felt Artist Lucy Sparrow Made Common Groceries A Timeless Masterpiece
At a quick glance, ‘Tampa Fresh Foods’ resembles a regular grocery store with the brightness turned all the way up. However, every single one of the 50,000 hand-sewn and hand-painted items sitting on the shelves in the 2,200 sq ft location in Tampa, Florida is made out of felt – and available for purchase. Fresh produce, a meat counter, copious seafood and even a humidor for local cigars are all part of the unique exhibition by celebrated British artist Lucy Sparrow – AKA, the Queen Of Felt.
Her “transformative and fun” installation has been two years in the making and is taking Florida (and TikTok) by storm. “It’s all about creating an immersive art experience for people to promote extreme feelings of happiness and serotonin,” Sparrow says of the installation’s cheerful aesthetic.
“I’ve been working full time as an artist for 10 years now, and I started off doing the Cornershop,” says Sparrow, referencing her first viral felt exhibition in London. The artist continually challenges herself and audiences – be it with a fully stocked bodega that took New York City by storm in 2017 or the ‘Bourdon Street Chemist’ that heralded her return to London in the spring of 2021. Not since Andy Warhol transformed Campbell’s Tomato Soup from a basic lunch option into art have groceries been so visually satisfying.
Sparrow cites artists Tracey Emin and Louise Bourgeois as influences, as when she was studying, “they were the only ones using sewing in a fine art setting.” A dose of Wes Anderson is infused in this heightened world and in the artist’s Moonrise Kingdom-adjacent attire. “I always design a new uniform to match each show,” she says – her yellow beret, Florida-orange sweater and green pleated mini skirt embracing the citrus palette that plays into her cheerful themes.
Everyone could do with a “happiness injection,” she says, and the ubiquity of a grocery store draws on familiarity and nostalgia. “It’s for everyone; it’s appealing to all ages, backgrounds, genders, just come have a look and have fun.”
Tampa Fresh Foods runs at 1050 Water Street until 20 February 2022. Emma Fraser is a freelance culture writer with a focus on TV, movies and costume design. She has written for publications including Elle, Vulture, The Cut, Thrillist and Little White Lies