Twenty years ago, the first art review I ever wrote for the college paper was about a show at a cafe. I started by talking about how the long tradition of showing artists work in cafes and restaurants was a useful one for impecunious artists. My editor didn't know the Latin word for "broke," so he changed "impecunious" to "peculiar," my anger at which is the only reason I remember the story.
But it struck me again as I stopped by Sascha's (527 N. Charles St.) in Mount Vernon to see the work of Brett Stuart Wilson. Is the work in there for the diners? Or for art patrons? Ideally, I guess, the arrangement should serve to make the art seeker into a customer, and customer into an art lover.
Wilson's work is, in fact, a perfect fit for the restaurant. The show is made up of roughly a dozen heads of iconic musicians such as Thelonious Monk (pictured), John Coltrane, and Keith Richards. Each portrait is part-painterly and part-sculptural. Imagine the thick impasto and bright colors of a Van Gogh if he had spent the last 200 years layering on paint. Wilson says that his process "starts with construction of wood and wire, and then builds upon by layering, shifting, and manipulating muslin, acrylic paint, paper, and other found materials until it becomes something that captures the power and intensity of the music itself."
The effect is perfect for the low-key class of Sascha's. The three-dimensional heads leap off the wall in bright daubs-Monk's brown skin, for instance, is composed of a rich mix of purple, blue, yellow, and brown pigments-on primary-colored backdrops. They are noisy enough to make you stop your dinner and notice but not so challenging that they distract you from dinner. If you want to go specifically for the art, there is an opening Wednesday, April 3, from 5-8 P.M. When I stopped by to check out his work, I got a Bollywood dog ($7) whose thick layerings of curry and chickpeas complemented the work well. If only there would have been some jazz playing.
If Wilson tries to make his art match his subject's music, Rod Hamilton's new Untied series is attempting to bring art music into new contexts. Concert music-also known as classical music or Western art music (since classical is technically a period within the music)-can have a pretty stuffy reputation, despite the fact that many contemporary composers are making music that is as adventurous and exciting as anything going. Untied begins Saturday, April 6, with Steve Reich's "Six Pianos," "The Park" by Robert Ashley, and Andrew Bernstein's "A Boundless Mass of Transparent Jelly." These works will be performed by some of the city's most exciting musicians at the Coward Shoe Building (322 N. Howard St.), a gorgeous venue with big windows behind performers, known more for its punk shows than its classical chops. There are also going to be sound installations by Grayson Brown, Salvatore Farina, Colin Zwiefel, Peter Tran, and Sasha de Koninck. Things kick off at 9 P.M. and cost $7.