With this year’s Liverpool Biennial Festival and the Independent’s Biennial fringe festival transforming much of Liverpool into an art gallery, the use of some more unlikely buildings in the city for staging art installations and exhibitions has highlighted a growing trend in the city: cafes and restaurants are becoming art galleries.
The Egg Café, Bold Street Coffee and the Italian Club are three Liverpool examples of how art and food work together in public spaces – and we’re not talking about those soft-focus cappuccino triptychs you see in Starbucks either.
The Egg (at Newington, off Bold Street) offers up Headspace, an attic space in the busy cafe curated by Jazamin Sinclair and Karen Henley. The pair say that the juxtaposition makes for a pleasant surprise for most patrons, many of whom stumble across Headspace while seeking sustenance of a more obvious kind, meaning that local artists reach a wider audience than they might in a specialist gallery.
“Visiting an exhibition at The Egg is a unique multi-sensory experience,” says Jazamin.
“While you are enjoying the tantalising aromas and flavours of the food on offer; there is a wonderful feast for the eyes on the walls all around you.”
According to the Headspace duo, local artists can find commercial success and recognition from the collaborative café-gallery venue – with birthday meals at the cafe frequently seeing customers splash out on a work that might never have otherwise caught their eye.
Recent sales have included work by both Sinclair and Henley amongst others, and would-be art collectors can look forward to Headspace’s upcoming participation in Liverpool’s Long Night on 19 October, where there will be work from twenty four artists on sale as part of the Indepenents Liverpool Biennial Programme.
In association with Biennial, Headspace will be showing Bright Young Things until November – an exhibition loosely based on Stephen Fry’s movie adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies.
Elsewhere in the city, Liverpool-based artist Anna Di Scala’s work focuses on the nude female form, yet her work adorns the walls at The Italian Club on Bold Street and Whitechapel’s Bellini; both restaurants that echo Di Scala’s Italian heritage.
Di Scala will also be exhibiting during the Biennial at The Florrie in, Toxteth – another alternative gallery space new to the city.
As a chef as well as an artist, and having spent her childhood in family restaurants, Di Scala describes her work as ‘desirable, sensual, and pleasurable’ and believes that food has a strong positive influence on her work, comparing the hands-on experience of both cooking and painting.
Meanwhile, just up the road from The Italian Club, Bold Street Coffee has carved a niche in the city for its uncompromising commitment to quality in its coffee, but Creative Director Ross Longmire says that the artwork that hangs on the caffeine den’s walls has to go through a similarly stringent process.
“Artwork on the walls keeps customers company when they’re drinking alone. It can inspire, start conversations, offer hope and prevent people looking at a blank wall on a dull day.
“Using the walls as exhibiting space allows the café to provide exposure to emerging underground artists. I’m drawn to independent artists with links to skateboarding and music or a strong local connection.”
Bold Street Coffee is so in demand with local artists as a place to exhibit that the cafe’s walls are currently booked up until Summer 2013. And while the cafe is not officially taking part in this year’s Biennial, they will be exhibiting work produced by the staff concurrently.
“The shop is the exhibition for September! We missed the boat on this year’s Biennial so instead the walls will be hosting artwork produced by ourselves.
“Over the last two years we have developed a strong visual identity and accumulated a large back catalogue of imagery used for adverts, promotional posters, and events within the shop.”
“Diversity is something we all need to embrace, and I hope Bold Street Coffee embodies this whole heartedly,” says Longmire.
That diversity is as apparent in The Egg Cafe as it is in Bold Street Coffee – while Anni Di Scala’s work in two of the city’s best italian restaurants has clear benefits for both artist and eaterie.
As commercial outlets have to work harder for our food or drink pound, using these well-attended public spaces to exhibit art can be another revenue stream; an inexpensive way of furnishing a building and an enriching experience for customers.
With belts tightening don’t be surprised if mroe Liverpool cafes follow their lead – and make Liverpool an art gallery well beyond the end of the Biennial.
Headspace – Bright Young Things 15 September – 25 November
The Italian Club, Bellini – Anna Di Scala (Ongoing)
Bold Street Coffee – Untitled exhibition of own work until mid-October
Domino Gallery – Dianne Welford, Materialising Thought from 14 September
Top image by iwouldstay via Flickr