Off the art map
A tour of restaurant exhibits in downtown Chico
Just another day in Chico, with the goat boy, ram head and ol’ bird skull all greeting me from the walls of downtown restaurants during an impromptu art walk last weekend. I toured the current exhibits of four cafes and one neighborhood bar and found a fresh collection of rich characters and interesting settings outside the confines of the usual galleries.
It’s not often that you get a chance to see a goat-footed boy dramatically perched on one hoof while tootling his flute. But there he is, in Positano on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Photographer Richard J. Powell, a local doctor, transports us there via his current exhibit of landscape photography at the Upper Crust Bakery & Cafe in downtown Chico. In this particular photograph, the Faunus statue (the Roman equivalent of Pan) is in the foreground atop a balcony wall overlooking a blue Mediterranean bay flanked with terraces of houses climbing down a distant hill to where ant-size people dot the beach and tiny yachts and miniscule boats float serenely beneath a pale blue, cloud-smeared sky.
Powell’s photographs are infinitely detailed, fantastically rendered portals to distant places, and as is exemplified in his Positano image, the photos have compositional sophistication, impressive depth of field and a range of color tonality that is reminiscent of the Renaissance masters he admires and emulates.
Around the corner on Second Street inside the Naked Lounge, graphic-designer-turned-tattoo-artist Jeremy Golden (of Eye of Jade Tattoo) is exhibiting Selected Work for Tattoos, pen and ink-wash drawings—a noble bird skull, a hooded human skull against a coffin-top background, etc.—that look just as fine decorating the walls of the café’s back lounge area as they would a bicep or thigh.
If you have an eye for colorful, psychedelic imagery or moody charcoal figure studies, a trip to Tin Roof Bakery & Café at Seventh and Broadway is in order. There you’ll find paintings by Tin Roof barista Raakel Alvord and drawings by Chico State graphic design major Cody Vierra overlooking the tables. Alvord uses earthy and wildflower colors to render archetypal images such as the orange-eyed, ram-horned humanoid face of “The Fawn” that serenely gazes back at its viewers with an enigmatic Mona Lisa-like smile.
Over at Fifth and Main streets, Has Beans Café & Galleria offers thrills of the interstellar variety. Lining the café’s main wall, the works of Chico painter Bill Shelton depict UFO invasions and journeys to distant planets rendered in a style reminiscent of folk artists Howard Finster or Grandma Moses. The naïveté of Shelton’s style is belied by the compositional craftsmanship and limited but carefully chosen palette he uses to compose his images. Stenciling the titles into the sky in 2-inch, black spray-painted letters and framing the pictures with what appear to be recycled wooden window frames gives the pieces warmth and a visceral immediacy.
After sufficient caffeination, a fancy brew is in order, and Chico’s swanky SOPO beer joint the Winchester Goose offers not only that life essential but also currently features a selection of pen-and-ink studies of architectural marvels by Chico State instructor and hematology researcher Jesse Smith. The fine line drawings of such historic buildings as the original Enloe Hospital and Chico State Teacher’s College pair perfectly with the establishment’s intricately molded art deco ceiling, rustic brick and wood interior textures and an artisan-crafted beverage or two.