Friday, February 3, 2012

Smile Like You Mean It

I got it from all sides tonight.

The swine was on the wall and on my plate. The relationship advice came from a sculptor who no longer believes in art. The travel advice came from a Sicilian with whom I discussed South Africa.

Ghostprint Gallery was hosting a preview of "Chroma Shift: Leslie Herman and Neal Iwan," two VCU graduates with very different work.

Herman's prints and drawings spoke to the music lover in me. "The "Strokes"  was all cigarettes, coffee cups and five young men looking in different directions.

"Ian Curtis" was a face and a hand holding a microphone, compelling for the engmatic nature of Curtis' expression.

A couple of the prints were for shows I'd seen. "Okkervil River: Richmond" was for the show they'd done with Wye Oak last Fall that I'd so enjoyed.

Probably my favorite was "Explosions in the Sky." an ink and gouache on paper that called to me (well, except for the $750 price tag), partly because I'd been at that show,but also because of its whimsical imagery.

It was of a woman's face with a hat and veil, but the hat morphed into something fantastical with twigs and explosions trailing off the top of the page.

It perfectly encapsulated visually what it feels like when you hear Explosions in the Sky playing their dynamic post-rock.

Meanwhile on the other side of the gallery, Neal Iwan's oil paintings showed a variety of domesticated animals.

"Swine," a painting the artist said took him five hours to finish, showed that tastiest of animals, pigs, clearly represented without any embellishment.

Next to it, "Crowded" showed more pigs, these with occasional drips of paint through them. Iwan is an artist who likes to let the paint do what it does.

By the time I arrived at the show, two of his paintings had already sold, including my favorite, "The Herd."

Dabs of brown paint emerge from a lime green canvas to describe a herd of horses running toward the viewer.

Here the brushwork was more loose and evocative than definitive; I found the immediacy of it captivating.

The artist indicated that it was indicative of the direction his work has been taking of late.

I ran into an old friend at the show, a sculptor and former long-time teacher at VCU.

We talked art for a while but his disgust with the direction art took several decades ago left him with little tolerance for the lack of questioning in contemporary art.

I only hope I never get so jaded that I can't appreciate the latest generation of artists coming up.

He did tell me a sweet story about him and his girlfriend ("We see each other three times a week. Not on Thursdays!" he clarified), whom he'd met in the 80s.

"We liked each other then," he said, "But both our egos were too big. We got back together a few years ago and now everything's wonderful."

His grin looked awfully satisfied.

That's the secret, I guess. Find someone, send them packing and then reconnect decades later for a happy ending.

With new-found knowledge and my stomach growling, I left J-Ward for Six Burner and some sustenance.

On the actor/bartender's effusive recommendation ("This is the smoothest wine in the world"), I had the Domaine la Bouissiere "Les Amis de la Bouissiere," a Cotes du Rhone also described as "midnight in a glass."

And as long as we're talking about smooth and midnight, it should be noted that tonight's music at Six Burner was not the usual.

Vintage R & B (Spinners, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Lou Reed, Barry White) made for a livelier vibe than usual, delighting the bartender and giving me something I don't often listen to.

But tonight was not so much about music as food.

I love how Six Burner's menu changes every day, but it means that sometimes I just can't pick only one thing.

Accepting my gluttony, I started with roasted eel and sauteed sweetbreads with pickled watermelon radishes (so pretty!), turnip-braised cabbage, lardoons and XO sauce.

Besides being an exquisitely beautiful presentation (a food fashion spread on a rectangular plate, so to speak), it was a perfect balance of rich and tart, with the sweet/spicy XO sauce lending an extra kick to all of it.

Granted, I could have stopped there. Instead, I ordered the confit pork belly cassoulet with Spanish Chorizo, Olli prosciutto, apples and local speckled butter beans and crowder peas.

At its essence, it was pork and beans with apples and of course it was so much more than that.

The toothsome beans and peas were as impressive as the variety of swine products and the sweet cooked apples the ideal contrast to the salty meats.

Then the food coma set in.

Fortunately, a guy had sat down one stool away from me, so I figured now was the time to seek out some after-dinner conversation since I was unable to do anything more strenuous than talk.

He turned out to be a Manhattan transplant who lives near VCU and loves to eat out and travel. He justified both by explaining that he was Italian, Sicilian specifically.

"Where in Europe have you been?" he asked right of the bat.

My answer of England and Scotland didn't satisfy him.

"You need to go to Italy," he instructed. "You need to do Venice first, then Florence and Rome. I can already tell you'd love the food and wine."

He graciously said I needn't do Sicily until I'd seen the other three first.

I managed to stop him from lecturing me about my Italy omission by bringing up South Africa, a place we'd both been.

He told a story of a Londoner he'd met in South Africa who'd lectured him about seeing everything you could now because there was no guarantee any of it would be around for future generations.

Naturally he felt obligated to pass on that lecture to me.

When he asked how I'd ended up in Richmond, the conversation took a turn and I took charge.

Despite fifteen years here, he had almost no idea of what to do at night besides going out to eat.

Oh, my new Italian friend with the New York accent, let me tell you some of what there is to do in this town.

I'm happy to say that by the time I finished with him (and my wine), he was leaving for Balliceaux, a place he didn't even know existed (despite living six blocks from it) to hear No BS, a band he'd never heard of before I told him about them.

"Thanks, sweetheart," he said when he got up. "I hope I'll see you around someplace."

No problem, toots. It's just what I do. And if you do go out, you're bound to eventually see me.

I get it from all sides and I give it right back. With a smile, mind you.

Always with a smile.

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