Restau­rants and artists team up to cre­ate unique spa­ces

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - NEWS - DAN CLAPSON

Restau­ra­teurs in the prairies are seek­ing out lo­cal artists to bring their venues to life

It’s been years since the Cal­gary restau­rant Jaro Blue closed its doors, but of all the things I can fondly re­call from spend­ing time eat­ing and drink­ing in its el­e­gant lit­tle space on Cal­gary’s 17th Av­enue, the most prom­i­nent thing in mind is still the strik­ing near-life­size pho­tographs of wild horses mounted on the walls.

Just like im­pec­ca­ble ser­vice or a won­der­fully plated dish of squash-filled ravi­oli with fried sage and brown but­ter – cool tem­per­a­tures do call for a fall vis­ual, af­ter all – art can play an im­por­tant part in el­e­vat­ing a din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Like­wise, stark walls and IKEA art­work can of­fer a re­verse ef­fect.

As we’ve seen the idea of “lo­cal” be­come a base­line in Canada’s in­de­pen­dent restau­rant com­mu­nity, in re­cent years, the men­tal­ity has ex­panded into the world of art where restau­ra­teurs now look to lo­cal tal­ent to help bring their spa­ces to life.

In Cal­gary’s Home and Away, for ex­am­ple, a hang­ing gallery dis­plays work by Mandy Stobo, who has taken her “bad por­traits” aes­thetic to de­pict some of the world’s most fa­mous ath­letes. Ms. Stobo’s bad por­traits have made her one of the city’s most rec­og­niz­able artists.

The art­work helps to el­e­vate the con­cept from sim­ple sports bar to some­thing much more mem­o­rable.

House­hold names in Win­nipeg’s equally vi­brant food and art com­mu­ni­ties, life­long friends An­drew East­man and Chloe Chafe launched their busi­ness Syn­onym Art Con­sul­ta­tion in 2013. The cu­ra­to­rial and con­sult­ing busi­ness con­nects artists work­ing in all types of medi­ums with lo­cal busi­nesses for com­mis­sioned work, gallery-style show­ings and more.

While work­ing to­gether at a now de­funct restau­rant on South Os­borne years ago, Mr. East­man and Ms. Chafe be­gan chat­ting with one an­other about the lack of in­ter­est­ing art­work to be found in­side Win­nipeg eater­ies and bars.

“Our whole busi­ness is truly built on the syn­ergy be­tween art and hos­pi­tal­ity,” Mr. East­man ex­plains. “We saw all of these beau­ti­ful spa­ces with blank walls or generic art­work and it was such a shame. You have this cap­tive au­di­ence in restau­rants where peo­ple come in and spend hours in a space, so we started trans­form­ing spa­ces into ro­tat­ing art gal­leries.”

Busi­nesses such as The Hand­some Daugh­ter, The Tallest Poppy and De­seo Bistro (now closed) be­gan fea­tur­ing myr­iad lo­cal art­work through Syn­onym. The Tallest Poppy and its owner, Talia Syrie, took a par­tic­u­larly strong em­brace to the work Ms. Chafe and Mr. East­man were start­ing to do and worked with them to launch an artist-in-res­i­dence pro­gram where artists would spend time on-site in Ms. Syrie’s restau­rant dur­ing reg­u­lar busi­ness hours work­ing on their in­stal­la­tions.

“We’ve had wall­pa­per in­stal­la­tions, col­lage-mak­ing events, a cus­tom neon sign made, the list just goes on and on … it’s re­ally just a trans­for­ma­tive space that’s al­ways evolv­ing with the res­i­dency pro­gram,” Mr. East­man says.

The cus­tom sign he men­tions was cre­ated by Win­nipeg artist Divya Mehra and can be seen glow­ing warmly through Poppy’s front win­dow once the sun sets on Sher­brookStreet. Theartist­works with neon as a medium and for this par­tic­u­lar in­stal­la­tion, she drew from her East In­dian fam­ily roots to cre­ate her piece of a deli sand­wich that reads: “Deli Delhi Club.”

Mr. East­man and Ms. Chafe also re­cently wrapped their fifth an­nual Wall-to-Wall Mu­ral and Cul­tural fes­ti­val, an­other artist ini­tia­tive that ben­e­fits lo­cal busi­nesses with strik­ing im­agery on build­ing ex­te­ri­ors all around the city.

Cal­gary’s Kelsey Fraser’s il­lus­tra­tions are likely rec­og­niz­able to many, grac­ing the bot­tles of The Dandy Brew­ing Co.’s craft cre­ations, but her most im­pact­ful work is the bright and cheer­ful wood­cut art in­stal­la­tion she was com­mis­sioned to cre­ate in their brew­pub, which opened ear­lier this year.

Mounted on a large white wall, Ms. Fraser cre­ated a col­lec­tion of il­lus­trated wood­cuts of Dandy beer char­ac­ters. Happy hu­mans and crea­tures in­ter­min­gle along the wall, and are back-painted with a bright or­ange paint that pro­vides a unique halo ef­fect to each piece, which helps to grab your at­ten­tion.

“I wanted to try to cre­ate an in­spir­ing piece of art that shows how I would love peo­ple to in­ter­act to­gether in a space. No phones in their hands,” Ms. Fraser says, laugh­ing. “Eye con­tact, lots of smiles … some­thing that em­bod­ies hu­man con­nec­tion and play­ful­ness. I hope it makes peo­ple laugh and I think it brings some fun to the brew­ery space.”

Ms. Fraser goes on to say that she is con­tin­u­ally im­pressed with the col­lab­o­ra­tive na­ture of Dandy Brew­ing’s own­ers and how of­ten they en­gage with the lo­cal art com­mu­nity through bot­tle art­work and in­stal­la­tions. Sim­i­lar to The Tallest Poppy in Win­nipeg, the brew­pub runs an artist-in-res­i­dence pro­gram.

One of Ed­mon­ton’s new­est restau­rants, Wil­fred’s, stands out from the pack for sev­eral rea­sons –one of them be­ing the con­cept of diner-meets-cock­tail bar – but its most in­ter­est­ing qual­ity is the chil­dren’s book-like charm it exudes. Co-own­ers Nicole and Shaun Brandt con­tracted lo­cal art and de­sign firm Van­guard Works to cre­ate cus­tom il­lus­tra­tions for Wil­fred, a friendly bear who is the mayor of his home­town filled with happy res­i­dents of all shapes and sizes.

Il­lus­tra­tors Keith-yin Sun and Judi Chan have cre­ated be­yond charm­ing im­agery that spans an en­tire east wall. Wil­fred and his town res­i­dents – cats, dogs, tur­tles and oth­ers – en­joy a day at the beach on the large il­lus­trated wall­pa­per.

Let­ting your food get cold over an In­sta­gram pic­ture is one thing, but be­com­ing mes­mer­ized by a cap­ti­vat­ing work of art be­fore you dive into your din­ner? There is cer­tainly no shame in that.

PHO­TOS BY TODD KOROL/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Mandy Stobo’s ‘bad por­traits’ of fa­mous ath­letes add a fun, yet up­scale, touch to Cal­gary’s pop­u­lar sports bar Home and Away.

The Dandy Brew­ing Co. hired Cal­gary’s Kelsey Fraser to de­sign cre­ative il­lus­tra­tions, in­clud­ing the ones hung on the wall above.

The Cal­gary sports bar Home and Away also spruced up their space by hang­ing over a dozen skate­boards on their rus­tic wooden wall.

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