Food and art were made for each other. Both revel in color and texture. Fine diners often have an appreciation for fine art, too. So when it comes to filling blank wall space, more and more restaurants are turning to local artists these days.
At Savor Café on West Morehead Street, art pulls double duty and showcases the food as well. Shrimp and grits, the signature dish, is portrayed in a distinctive interpretation by Morehead City-based artist Mandy Johnson, part of a food-themed series along one wall in the restaurant’s bar area.
Several other artists are featured at the urban eatery, notes co-owner Lisa Burris. Charlotte-based Dora B offers her take on some common foods in larger pieces with whimsical titles like “A Good Egg” and “Spice of Life.” She starts with an original acrylic painting and electronically adds text and background in Photoshop for the finished canvas prints on display. Lovely abstracts by Sara Simmons, meanwhile, add a nice contrast to the folk art realism of the work by Johnson and Dora B, all set off nicely by Savor Cafe’s exposed brick walls.
The cuisine offers an interesting Southern take on American bistro selections. Owners work with local growers to provide the freshest possible take on some traditional selections (pimento cheese dip) and some not-so-traditional Southern cuisine, such as spring rolls made with collard greens and smoked turkey.
A more traditional take
For a contrast from Savor’s folksy feel, fans of more traditional art gravitate toward Gallery Restaurant at the Ballantyne Hotel. The work featured here comes from the private collection of H.C. “Smokey” Bissell, chairman of the Bissell Companies, which owns and operates the restaurant. Bissell is the largest private collector of work by French Impressionist Yolande Ardissone.
In the main dining area of Gallery, Ardissone’s work stands out with its bright colors, many of the paintings featuring seaside scenes of boats and water in Brittany. The play of light and motion in these paintings makes a lively backdrop for restaurant patrons while they enjoy such dishes as the grilled salmon filet, swordfish or flat iron steak (marinated in cherry moonshine).
Also featured in the Gallery are several landscapes by Dominique Dorié. These paintings of the French countryside make wonderful use of light and color. Dominating the Gallery Bar is “Jazz in the Park” by Florida-based artist James Kerr, a lively scene of a jazz band playing outdoors (you can almost hear the music).
Art has worked so well as a theme for the Gallery Restaurant, plans are in the works to expand the concept to include not just the work from the Bissell collection but work for sale, says General Manager Adriaan Radder. They are working closely with the folks at Shain Gallery to select artists to be featured after a renovation of the restaurant later this year. “We want to be truer to our name,” he says with a smile.
After renovations, the restaurant aims for a less formal atmosphere with featured art changing regularly. “We’ll improve the lighting so the art can be showcased better,” Radder adds.
Supporting the menu
Architect David Wagner, one of the principals of Murray Wagner Architects, often provides original artwork for his firm’s restaurant projects. “I always attempt to find a connection,” he says, “between the menu concept, the design decor (we are usually the architects for these interior spaces), and the creation of artwork that compliments the design and supports the menu concept.”
With this concept in mind, Wagner has created everything from oil paintings of grapes for a tapas/wine bar to charcoal sketches of key military figures in the Battle of Kings Mountain for a steakhouse in the Gaston County town.
As the economy pushes artists to continue to explore ways to exhibit their work beyond traditional galleries, art lovers and restaurant patrons and owners are the beneficiaries. Just this summer, for example, the owners of the Terrace Café in Piedmont Town Center commissioned local artist Robert Langford to create three paintings specifically for the SouthPark restaurant. The deep rich colors in the abstract landscapes echo menu items like the red velvet waffles and rich browns of the “Mighty Corned Beef” on marbled rye.
Local and regional art is on display at many other restaurants around the city, including FABO, a coffeeshop/wine bar on Selwyn Avenue, the Serbian-themed Intermezzo on Central Avenue, and Table 274 in Cotswold.
A delicious trend, indeed.