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"The Ketchup and Mustard Theory"

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

The KFC Lava Bowl

Not far from my studio in Kuala Lumpur Hawker stalls serving Malaysian street food delicacies like Char Kway Teow and Nasi Lemak are dwarfed by an enormous billboard advertising KFC'S new "Curry Lava Bowl". The scale of the thing is impressive, the colors are mostly warm to hot, what I'm guessing is cheese boarders on a radio active shade of orange. The texture of the chicken looks like some sort of miraculous rock formations in Southern Utah. I'm reminded of some Claes Oldenburg piece that was never made, it's completely ridiculous but I can't take my eyes off of it, I find it inviting and oddly beautiful even though I hate chicken and haven't set foot in KFC since I was a kid. Even the clatter and smells of the food stalls can't really compete with it for my attention.

I never knew the place was so popular with Hindus.

It seems the they've been getting other folks attention too. I've been coming to Malaysia for extended trips for several years now, in December of 2020 my wife (who's Malaysian) and I relocated here from the US for the foreseeable future. One thing I've haven't been able not to notice is the proliferation of American fast food chains. All the heavy hitters from back home are quite literally everywhere now and not just storefronts. Car windscreen proudly displace "McDonald's Drive thru VIP" stickers, ads are constantly appearing on social media, they all even deliver!

I found it puzzling why someone would opt for this kind of food here when local options were just as affordable (or ever cheaper in many cases) and far more tasty. In most of the US, fast food is usually the only option for a quick affordable meal but it's not the case here at all.

It turns out there's a lot of strategies fast food restaurants use to get people in the door from marketing kids, to appealing to your social status. One of the most prevalent strategies is known as the "Ketchup and Mustard Theory". The theory is based in Color Psychology and basically says the different shades and combinations of red and yellow will make us hungry or at least make us think we're hungry.

This isn't a joke, Burger King really sold these here.

Yellow is said to be associated with feelings of "contentment, happiness, competence, and comfort". While red conveys "desire, power, and love". When used together these colors are said to connect with us on a deep emotional level. The theory is applied to everything from logos , i.e. the Golden Arches, to the advertising, like the billboard that held me in aesthetic arrest.

One of the massive new billboards near my apartment.

Recently I began a series on paper that harnesses the power of "The Ketchup and Mustard Theory". I'm using collage imagery from fast food ads in a way that describes how they enter the visual cortex level of our brain and connect to our emotions. Who knows, maybe the theory can be applied to art also and and some collector will find this series irresistible. Have a look below and let me know what you think in the comments. You can also check out more of my recent work available @

Ketchup and Mustard Theory #1, collage and acrylic on paper, 14 x 17in, 2021
Ketchup and Mustard Theory #2, collage and acrylic on paper, 14 x 17in, 2021

Ketchup and Mustard Theory #4, collage, acrylic and pencil on paper, 30 x 18in, 2021

Ketchup and Mustard Theory #3, collage, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 14 x 17in, 2021

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