June 2016

Dinner and a Painting: Culinary art and fine art collaborate

Author: Kitty Bartell

Restaurants have long been the haunts of artists: great, to kind-of-great, to wanna-be great. After all, the creative soul must be nourished and encouraged between putting paint to canvas or pen to paper. The fruits of their labors have frequently gone hand-in-hand with their epicurean surroundings, where ambiance is often created in cafés, bars, joints and dining rooms, in part by the art hanging on the walls and the sculpture in niches, foyers and gardens.’

There is the urban legend of Pablo Picasso’s napkin drawing, or Vincent Van Gogh’s foodie inspiration for his restaurant paintings; and when artists like modern American painter Torey Thornton or French sculptor Marguerite Humeau are, today, imbibing over a sidewalk café table, a great deal of ambiance is automatically created. However, it is the actual work of those artists that best helps to set a mood and a personality to complement a cuisine. ‘

Across the Lowcountry, a special company of restaurants display the work of artists, along with helping to supplement the artists’ income by selling their works directly to their patrons.

When Matt and Carol Jording, owners of The Sage Room on Hilton Head Island, first opened their restaurant 14 years ago, they were without wall décor as opening day neared. “We said we’ve got to get something up on the walls,” Carol Jording said. “We were very young. We really didn’t have a budget for artwork, and that’s when Karen [Howard] stepped up.” Offering to put her vibrant, color-saturated paintings up at no cost to the new restauranteurs, in exchange for allowing them to be offered for sale, was a perfect solution that has become a tradition at The Sage Room, where the Jordings continue to display works that complement their aesthetic and promote local artists.

“Over the years, Sage Room has evolved,” Jording said. “We wanted more of a relaxed environment. We kind of moved through all different types of artwork.” The restaurant found their current vibe through the work of local photographer Brett Lance. In addition to being a manager at their Bluffton restaurant, Old Town Dispensary, “He does phenomenal pictures. Some are black and white, some color, and all local subjects; it’s a marsh, boats in Harbour Town, a picture of a gorgeous pelican. His work kind of meshes well with what we want to do right now, and he does pretty well selling them too,” Jording said.

There’s a good reason the term “starving artist” is bandied about among artists and their benefactors. Statistically, few make a living with brushes and paints or clay and glaze. Establishing a gallery of sorts in a restaurant provides the artist with not only highly valuable visibility, but with actual sales as well.

ELA’S Blu Water Grille in Shelter Cove Harbour on Hilton Head Island created a wonderful reciprocal relationship with world-renowned expressionist painter Peter Karis (1942-2015), said Maggie Karis, wife of the painter, and owner of Karis Art Gallery in the Village at Wexford. “Peter knew the owner of ELA’S, Earl Nightingale. Earl opened ELA’S prior to us having Karis Art Gallery. Peter was showing in galleries across the country and internationally; however, he wasn’t really showing anything on Hilton Head. So Earl came to him and asked if he would like to have his work there.”

Peter Karis’s work is even on the ceiling at ELA’S. “Earl asked Peter to paint the hulls of the boats that hang from the ceiling. Those became art objects as well and matched the paintings,” Karis said. “I love that restaurants do that, because it’s really hard sometimes for artists to gain exposure unless they happen to get into a gallery. Being in restaurants is huge for artists.” Other pieces by Peter Karis are on display and for sale at Nightingale’s new Bluffton restaurant, The Pearl Kitchen & Bar, and at Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse, just across from their gallery.

Local artist, art instructor and curator, L. Robert Stanfield has created a lovely gallery niche within Catch 22, located on Hilton Head Island, where both the food on the plates and the art on the walls make for an experience that nourishes not only bellies, but imaginative souls. “I knew [owners] Daisy [Bobinchuck] and Bryan [Bobinchuck], and Penny [Duren] and Gary [Duren] from before they opened Catch,” Stanfield said. “They were putting the restaurant together and it was probably one or two days before they opened. They didn’t have any artwork on the walls. They asked if I had something that I could loan them. I had enough work, so I filled up the walls; then pieces started to sell and it grew into a really great supportive relationship.”

Fifteen years later, Stanfield is still curating and showing at Catch 22, displaying work from local artists, his own students, and from artists in his circle of colleagues including former classmates from Savannah College of Art & Design. Stanfield said, “I try to keep their environment fresh and interesting.” He noted that restaurants are venues that have traffic every day and says that his relationship with Catch 22 has generated a great deal of business for the artists showing there. “We’ve had locals or people relocating here who are buying for their new home. I’ve had visitors come several years in a row, and they buy a new piece to take home every year. It’s been a really wonderful thing.”

Artist Lunonia Colella and Chef Paul Colella have coupled their work at The Studio on Hilton Head Island. “My husband is a chef. He always wanted a restaurant,” Lunonia said. “Being an artist, I always wanted a gallery space. It made sense to put them together. We have four artists, including myself, who paint at easels in the dining room throughout the evening. People can walk around with a glass of wine or a martini and see the work. It creates a venue for artists to feature their work in a creative setting where a more diverse group of people will have a chance to view it. So it is very positive and can be very profitable.”

The next time you appreciate the vibe in a restaurant, coffee shop, diner or café, cast your eyes about and make note of the art amidst the architecture and scents and sparkling drinks. Like pork chops and applesauce, or coffee and cream, restaurants and artists go hand-in-hand, creating a decidely symbiotic space. 

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