Serving the arts: Galleries meet dining in local restaurants

Artist Laura Wooten’s majestic triptych (L to R), “Remembering St. Paul de Vence,” “Remembering Liguria” and “Remembering Barcelona,” heightens the dining experience at Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar. Photo: Courtesy the artist Artist Laura Wooten’s majestic triptych (L to R), “Remembering St. Paul de Vence,” “Remembering Liguria” and “Remembering Barcelona,” heightens the dining experience at Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar. Photo: Courtesy the artist

Art is food for the soul, as they say. So whether you and a date are carving a bit of indulgence into your weekday or celebrating Restaurant Week, take a break between mouthfuls to admire what’s on the walls.

At The Local, glossy brick props up the hallucinogenic work of Dave Moore, a Virginia artist born in Hampton and educated at Virginia Commonwealth University’s painting and printmaking department.

Bold, erratic shapes slash his off-white canvases. You get the sense of tightly wound tension and careful controlling of enormous energy. Streaks of black paint pull apart to reveal veins of swirling reds, melting layers of blue and neon green.

There’s something gritty and rhythmic about Moore’s work, so it’s no surprise that he’s also co-director of the rock department at WTJU 91.1. Under warm lights, his art pairs well with a fig sidecar and a paper cone loaded high with fries.

At rustic Italian favorite Tavola (co-owned by C-VILLE Weekly Arts Editor Tami Keaveny), the new craft cocktail bar offers sophisticated drinks, small plates and colorful ironwork by sculptor Lily Erb. The next time you need a place to cut a deal or murmur sweet nothings, wander into the sleek, dark space. Erb’s brightly painted steel sculptures pop in their mounting against cool gray walls, thin cords of undulating wire framed by rigid squares or loose circles, the largest of which stretches nearly 6′ across, lending movement to the scale of Tavola’s expanded interior.

Looking for a daytime pick-me-up? Grit Coffee Bar & Café on the Downtown Mall currently features canvas prints of Parisian street scenes in addition to its breakfast paninis and flavorful coffee drinks. Captured by local photographer Eric Kelley, some shots are tourist favorites like the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower at night, the foreground streaked by blurry, colorful lights. Others capture a sense of nostalgia for a city you may have never visited: cafe chairs clustered under an awning, a clutch of pedestrians crossing the street and shrugging into the wind, one woman’s face framed in pure misery by her umbrella whipped inside-out.

“We love having art in our shops because, one, we love supporting local artists and providing space for them to share their work with the community and, two, it’s fun to see how featuring different works changes the experience our customers have with our spaces,” says Grit co-owner Brandon Wooten.

The collection allows you to gingerly sip on your medium roast and believe, just for a moment, that you’re in a different city—one of lights, romance and imagination.

At lunchtime, stop by Baggby’s for fresh, well-prepared sammies, soups and salads. But before you dash out the door and back to the office, maybe nibble on your sandwich (or chocolate chip cookie, if we’re being honest) and allow yourself to be charmed by Jim Calhoun, the painter whose work dots the walls.

A residential painting contractor for 37 years, Calhoun infuses his impressionist work with confidence. Forests are conjured from blocks of color and strokes of tree limbs. Sailboats emerge with long masts, crackling water and a sky falling down in brushes of purple, blue and gold. Several paintings feature fishermen in streams, some with remarkable detail.

Art is everywhere at Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar. While your eyes may be riveted by the housemade ravioli or Italian mac-n-cheese, look up between forkfuls. An enormous triptych of a brightly rendered Mediterranean countryside faces the galley kitchen; a large colorful rendering of Grecian rooftops hangs directly above chefs at work.

These joyful landscapes, vibrant with oranges, blues, yellows and greens, are the handiwork of Laura Wooten, a co-owner at Orzo along with her husband and two friends.

Wooten also fills an Etsy shop with paintings, drawings and illustrations which she calls “a close observation of the natural world with a fanciful overlay of memory and invention.” It’s the perfect complement to the sensory dining experience.

On the outskirts of the Downtown Mall, stop in at C&O Restaurant. The country French mainstay has its own separate gallery room, open during art exhibitions and available for events. But, in the small, charming dining room, you’ll find local scenes hung against white wainscoting. Each delicate painting by Edward Thomas evokes a familiar place: the dam at Woolen Mills, the hospital on Cherry Street, the UVA Corner.

Liz Broyles, C&O’s former bar manager, asked Thomas to curate a collection that came as close to downtown as possible. So here is the familiar rush of water in the springtime; a friendly sky shaded by violet and pink.

Thomas writes in his artist’s statement about painting from direct observation. “Thinking gets in the way and leads to artifice; painting what you think is there rather than what is there.”

This space between past and present, reality and impression, colors the lens not just of artists but of those of us who seek its company. The choice to eat and savor each flavor is the same hunger an artist feels. It’s the impulse to get lost in a sensory moment, to submerge into an act of beauty and let it linger on our tongue.

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