Thursday, July 10, 2014

Not Staying Inside the Lines

You know I'm feeling the pride of the 'hood when I open up the Washington Post and see a piece about J-Ward.

There it was, larger than life, a wordy spread about the new GWAR Bar coming to Clay Street, two blocks from where I live. Not to brag, but we are becoming such a hot spot.

Likewise, it's terrific to see an old neighborhood favorite get a face-lift.

I'm talking about Bistro 27, relaunching with a big crowd tonight after a renovation of the dining room and a reworking of the menu (more of a Mediterranean emphasis).

There was air-kissing, there were friends to dish restaurant gossip with, and there was plenty of food to be tried.

Some people were two-fisting grown-up nuggets of thinly pounded chicken, Serrano ham, truffle oil and herbs coated in housemade breadcrumbs while others (Rich, I'm looking at you) stacked five and six tzatziki- topped lamb on pita on their plates.

A pretty girl in a green dress was trying not to inhale too much orecchiette bolognese ("We just got back from New Orleans so my dress already feels tight") while people filled cups with vichyssoise and hunks of crusty housemade bread and loosened their belts.

While assembling a cheese and fruit plate - Brie, creamy bleu, blueberry goat, pineapple, watermelon and figs - a woman began staring at me. When I turned to say hello, she said, "I know I know you."

Turns out we'd met once 20 years ago when I worked downtown and she'd somehow remembered my face. "I'm glad we figured that out because it would have driven me crazy!" she said when we parted.

And, no, I had no memory of her whatsoever when I saw her. Who remembers somebody they meet once and then don't see for two decades? Kudos to you, my dear.

Back at my table, our trio discussed recent theater productions we'd seen (Cabaret, Hair), the challenges of using a decorator (I wouldn't know) and a friend's recent eating and walking vacation in Charleston and Savannah (my kind of trip).

All of us admired Bistro 27's new look, with the newly refinished floors looking much warmer than before but also far more stylish.

The bar's new mosaic-looking front, trendy lighting, fresh art, studded leather chairs and sheer curtains made for a major improvement in the look of the place.

For me, part of the thrill also came from the absence of the TV near the bar (a buzz kill if ever there was one and now replaced with a painting), and the thumping techno music that made it feel like a happening.

My neighborhood joint had finally joined the 21st century. Wait till the neighbors see it now.

I think it was some time after our second wine and cheese plate that I got up to leave for an art opening, inviting my friends to join me, only one of whom did.

Walking outside, I couldn't help but notice that while the sky had been cloudless and blue when I'd arrived, now it was gray and so muggy you had to practically swim through the air.

It didn't matter because we were soon in the air-conditioned environs of Reynolds Gallery for the opening of "Hense: Drawings, Paintings and Shapes."

The artist Alex Brewer, who went by Hense when he'd been a graffiti artist, had done a two-wall installation in the gallery, using graphite, spray paint and large washes and rolls of clear-toned pinks, yellows, oranges and sky blues.

Savoring how it felt to be in that small gallery surrounded by these vibrant, colorful expressionist walls, I mentioned to my girlfriend what a shame it was that it would all eventually be painted over.

"I was just thinking the same thing!" a stranger said, turning to me with a look of consternation on her face. "What a shame that it will go away."

No doubt starting out as a graffiti artist prepares you to let go of your work the moment you finish it.

But there were also 21 paintings of myriad colors, mediums and moods arranged on the front gallery wall so Friend and I amused ourselves by discussing which ones appealed to us, which we could never live with as well as the inter-connectedness of certain recurring themes such as the pink circle.

Naturally, being a spray paint master, he made creative use of drips and in one work, the long,blue drips gave the piece a dense, underwater quality.

Often there was thick over-painting with small areas left showing through, giving the impression that you were being offered a glimpse into an inner world.

And then for something completely different, we headed to the other side of the wall.

One gallery space over was "Vacation Days," a group show full of familiar names and Richmond talent: Sally Bowring, Richard Roth, Sally Mann, Richard Carlyon, Gerry Donato, Jack Wax.

It was the best kind of group show with widely ranging styles and, in many cases, artists represented by two or three pieces. I counted myself as odd that I could be so attracted to one piece by an artist and find nothing to like about another of his. Call me fickle.

One thing Friend and I knew for certain was that our taste in art reflected our taste in attire.

She was drawn to pieces with the dark neutrals - black, brown, navy, gray - that she always wears while I was inevitably captured by color - if it was vibrant in hue, the painting more likely spoke to me.

Not sure what it is about me and color, but recently I bartered with an artist I know, trading him my writing for an upcoming painting of his.

Once he got started working on it, he sent me a picture of the work in progress with a note.

Here's what I have. I was experimenting a bit and wanted something with a lot of colors. Reminded me of you, I think.

Nothing wrong with being the colorful type, right? I should fit in perfectly in a neighborhood with a GWAR Bar.

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