Dining is a feast for the senses, but the old saying about eating first “with the eyes” points out the importance of visual presentation. An intriguing restaurant space, framed with evocative lighting and art, informs a dining experience and, ideally, elevates it.
Some artists have come to appreciate that way of thinking, and find restaurants to be a sensuous environment in which to showcase their work. Diners can connect with a piece of art for an entire meal as opposed to a moment or two in a gallery or office lobby.
Adrienne Schlow, Louis Risoli, and Julianna Bruce are three visual artists with plenty of museum and gallery experience — and long connections to the restaurant scene. They know that cuisine is the centerpiece at any restaurant. But their paintings and sculptures should never be mistaken as decor.
Studio: South End
The art: Mixed media pieces. “The image comes out in layers and 99 percent of the time it’s a woman on the canvas,” she said. “I don’t sketch — neither in my head nor on the painting. More often than not it takes its own course.”
Past exhibitions: Atlantic Wharf Gallery, Boston. SoWa Open Studios. Her work also hangs in private collections in the United States, Australia, Greece, and Bahrain.
Restaurant cred: Raised in a family of restaurateurs, she opened her own establishment, Glory, in Andover, in 2000. “We were over budget, so it was a no-brainer to put my stuff on the walls.” Glory is now Andolini’s, which Schlow’s brother, Spiro, operates. Her work still hangs on the walls. Last year, her chef and restaurateur husband, Michael, opened Tico in Washington, D.C., and asked to hang her work. Two pieces sold off the walls, and another patron commissioned a work. When Michael redesigned Tico Boston in November, Adrienne went to work on the columns and a bold statement piece on the wall called “This Is Not a Show” about a woman and the twists and turns of her life.
On showing in restaurants: “There’s so much more potential for drama. It’s sexier, more theatrical. There’s a lot more to play with. I love that when you hang work in a restaurant guests can dance with it. They can develop a romantic relationship with the work if the restaurant is a favorite place and the painting becomes part of those memories.”
The art: A painter for 32 years, his rectilinear and rectangular canvases feature complex patterns, layering of bright colors, and different texture. Risoli paints about 20 pieces a year. “I’m not really a fast worker,” he said.
Past exhibitions: Gallery NAGA in Boston, the deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, and the Rose Art Museum in Waltham. His work also hangs in corporate collections.
Restaurant cred: The mâitre d’ hotel and fromager at L’Espalier on Boylston Street in Boston, Risoli first hung his work on the walls of the restaurant nine years ago when a mirror came crashing down in its former space on Gloucester Street. “The managers were trying to figure out what to do with the blank wall space, and I said, ‘Why don’t I bring in a painting?’ ” he recalled. “It fit well. A lot of guests know I’m a painter. It gave them something to look at.” Since then, Risoli has frequently showcased works at the Back Bay restaurant.
On showing in restaurants: “In a gallery, the art is the whole thing. At L’Espalier, it’s part of the package. You are here for the food and the ambience.” Risoli said the restaurant showcase has prompted indirect sales, but he hasn’t “sold off the walls.” “That isn’t the intent,” he said.
Studio: Jamaica Plain
The art: A painter and sculptor, Bruce describes her art as “play between actual depth (created by wood, steel, or paint texture) and depth created from line and color.” She supported herself as a comic book artist for Marvel and DC Comics through her 30s, coloring Spider-Man, Conan the Barbarian, and Fantastic Four, among others. She has painted with oils and oil pastels, and began constructing in wood in 2000. “Then I moved to steel. I was welding at MassArt, then dragging the pieces home and painting them.”
Past exhibitions: She has been a lending artist to the deCordova Museum Corporate Art Program, Lincoln. She has been represented by Ezair Gallery in New York and Gallery AA/B in Boston. She has also shown work at Walter Wickiser Gallery in New York and Silvermine Guild Art Center in New Canaan, Conn. Corporate collections include Boston Properties, and University Park at MIT, Cambridge.
Restaurant cred: In 2002, Meritage at the Boston Harbor Hotel opened with Bruce’s chef husband, Daniel. She was commissioned to do a series called “Subzeros” inspired by the Sub-Zero wine refrigerators planned for the space. “I did a dozen pieces. So many people saw it. Meritage bought three and the series completely sold out. The response was exciting and unexpected.”
When Daniel started consulting at Chopps, a restaurant that opened at the Marriott Hotel in Burlington a year ago, the owners were interested in Julianna’s pieces. “I looked at the space [and] made suggestions as to what would work.” Four sculptures, including “Stone Pears” and “Dove,” hang on the walls there.
On showing in restaurants: “I like the idea that so many people could be at dinner for two hours and it’s behind whomever they are talking to,” she said. “Instead of the art being lined up on the wall in a gallery and the viewer briefly alighting on piece after piece, seeing artwork in a restaurant is the same leisurely way you’d live with it at home.” She didn’t always feel this way: “When you’re young, you feel you’re not established if you are not in a museum. But the full range of places to show is satisfying. . . . The enhanced social experience in a restaurant where combined with the other elements of the space, the food, the wine, perhaps the music, one comes away with a feeling of the evening that, I hope, was enhanced by my work being there.”
Jill Radsken can be reached at email@example.com.