It's goes by several names. Epicurean. Culinary. Gourmet. Regardless of rubric, there's no denying the growing popularity of the genre of art that today features foods, cafe' scenes, chefs at work, kitchens and romantic restaurants, beverages and even food containers. And nowhere was this more in evidence than in Naples this exhibition season.
"Cafe' scenes are very popular with our patrons," noted Gardner Colby Gallery Director Pamela Campe during the opening of The Slice of Life group show now on display in the popular Gallery Row stalwart. As if to prove Campe's point, several guests huddled close to the delicious impressionist oils of Gardner Colby newcomer Anne Blair Brown.
Undoubtedly, Brown's cafe', marketplace and kitchen scenes connect with Gardner Colby's collectors because of Brown's vibrant color palette and expressive brushwork. But more, they resonate with Naples' permanent and winter residents, who can be found nightly delighting in sumptuous meals at the outdoor cafes that perfume the night air along Fifth Avenue South and the Third Street South shopping district with the aroma of garlic, spices and roasting meats.
At the other end of the epicurean spectrum are the tightly-composed restaurant themes of Gardner Colby artist Lindsay Goodwin. Known for minute detail and beautiful luminosity, Goodwin's gourmet tableau depict the accoutrements of fine dining from starched white tablecloths, shimmering crystal and enticing china settings to plush chairs, rich draperies and romantic French and Southern California settings. In other words, Goodwin portrays those expensive, extravagant, decadent gourmet restaurants we wish we could afford to frequent more often.
Several artists pay homage to the chefs who make our meals memorable, for good or bad. Anne Blair Brown offers Walk the Line while Gardner Colby colleague Robin Cheers adds Saucier, Sizzle, Brigade de Cuisine and Just Desserts to the recipe of culinary art on view at Gardner Colby. And a block over, DeBruyne Fine Art has a whole series of chefs at work by Iowa impressionist Stephen Shortridge.
“The chef series is something new,” Shortridge proclaimed at the reception for the opening of his solo exhibition at DeBruyne Fine Art on February 24, 2011. While epicurean art may have been new to Shortridge two years ago, it's an important part of his repertoire today.
In his Chefs at Work series, Shortridge takes his viewers into the kitchen of fine dining establishments he and wife Cathy frequent. Since he cannot very well set up an easel in the kitchen, Stephen takes along an unobtrusive digital camera to gather paint-worthy material for his next canvas or two. "I always ask permission because I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable,” says Shortridge, who was on the other end of the lens during a 20-year career as an actor and model. “But unfortunately, that sometimes interferes with my ability to get candid shots.”
That may be, but the shots he does get have empowered him to create delectable paintings that rival the culinary art of modern-day epicureans such as Darrell Hill, Thalia Stratton, Kathy Morrison, Barbara Fracchia and Tiago Finato.
Shaw Gallery of Fine Art's Leonard Mizerek is known for maritime art, seascapes featuring the harbors and beaches of Trouville and Honfleur, French landscapes and bustling Paris cityscapes. However, at his monster solo show in February, it was his European sidewalk cafes and bistros that stole the show.
It's not comfort food or the trappings of luxury dining that capture Mizerek's attention, but rather the places where we gather to break break with family, friends and business associates. Mizerek provides us with a window into the way we relate to one another over a glass of wine, fragrant appetizers or a good meal in a boisterous and convivial restaurant. Whether in a night spot in Montmartre, an Italian restaurant in our birth state or a sparkling sidewalk bistro right here in Naples or Fort Myers, Mizerek's cafe' scenes remind us the people in our lives or from our past, and just like a song from our youth, they not only engage our memories, but our senses of sight, smell and taste.
All culinary artists appeal to the sense of origin, place and culture that we consciously and unconsciously attach to food and the places that prepare and serve it. while epicurean art may be new to artists like Shortridge and Mizerek, it's certainly here to stay. In fact, American Art Collector magazine now includes a feature on epicurean art in its April edition each year.
So grab a copy when it hits news stands next week, make a reservation at your favorite restaurant, and drop by Gardner Colby Gallery, DeBruyne Fine Art and Shaw Gallery of Fine Art either before or after to enrich your dining pleasure. Gardner Colby is located at 386 Broad Avenue; DeBruyne Fine Art is at 275 Broad Avenue; and Shaw Fine Art is at 761 Fifth Avenue South, all in Naples.