City Art Reader 18: A landscape with your flat white?

26th Jul 2019

Coffee, cake and good art – what’s not to like? While the prospect of steam, grubby fingers, over-zealous cleaners, unfocussed light and even less focused diners might send some gallerists (and some artists) into a spin of anxiety, cafés are increasingly opening their doors and walls to new art by established and emerging artists.

For artists, commercial cafés provide wall space, exhibition and installation experience, exposure and, of course, the opportunity for sales. For owners of cafés, having engaging work on the walls is a drawcard for new customers and an improvement to an often banal environment. For those customers, it is a chance to view and purchase art as they sip their espresso and to support young artists before they hit the dealer circuit.

Under the Red Verandah on the corner of Tancred and Worcester streets in Linwood St has a long tradition of showing work by local artists, dating back to its first iteration under founders Glyn Abbott and Roger Hickin. Today, UTRV manager and Ara arts graduate Madeleine Thompson is continuing that role. As well as artists contacting them directly (inlcuding those on the staff roster), this year the café put out a call to artists. Artists are expected to frame their own work and the UTRV staff hang them. There is no rental charged and the commission is 10 percent.

Madeleine Thompson: Because I grew up in Christchurch we’re trying to remember and re-attribute the atmosphere and energy old Linwood used to have, like the old Red Verandah showing local art works and making them attainable for people. My grandmother painted and I paint, but having graduated from an arts institution I’m not really interested in following the ‘high art’ expectations. It’s great to support a community that does what it likes by having art on the wall that people can enjoy. We have local artists and jewellers, we support local businesses, and painting is one of those things that a lot of people love to do. A lot of people don’t consider themselves artists because they don’t have that education but we’re saying, you don’t need it.

(top right) Cheriene Signer, “Garden seires #3”, 2018, oil on canvas, (bottom left) Russ Campbell, “Down by the lake”, 2019, oil on canvas, hanging at Under the Red Verandah

Debra McLeod graduated from CPIT (Ara) in 2017 and has exhibited in a number of solo and group shows. Last year she approached the owner of Leo’s Café on Madras Street in the hope of painting a stencilled mural on one of the internal walls. The owner was keen on the idea but after sitting down together they decided a permanent mural as part of an overall refurbishment of the café was a better option. Debra teamed up with freelance graphic designer and artist Kophie Hulsbosch and together they worked on four murals, signage and a large blackboard wall for artists to display art work against or to produce their own chalk murals. Debra was responsible for framing, installing and de-installing the art, although the café owner supplied paint, scaffolding and ladders. Over the following months she showed different genres of art works to help acclimatise the owners to change and to help the clientele know there was a space to exhibit. Contact details were displayed next to the art works for direct sales enquiries.

Debra McLeod: The main difference between a gallery and a café – other than the product sold – is not just the space where you are exhibiting your work, but more the thought process of the audience who views it. While some galleries can be out of the way, have odd hours and feel quite intimidating and scary to the average person, the main audience who goes into a gallery is there for the sole purpose of viewing the art work and only the art, and in the process possibly talk about and contemplate the message the artist is trying to communicate, be it a sunset or a more thought-provoking topic.

Cafés on the other hand are designed to be enticing and welcoming to any and all pedestrians. They want you to come in and buy their products, sit back and relax. When someone enters a café their first thought is coffee and food, it is not until they sit down that they may look around them to view what nice pictures are adorning or decorating the walls.

The gallery and café are two different businesses whose area of expertise and product priorities differs drastically. When showing works in a food and beverage environment I have found it is best to have works that are less likely to be damaged by any accidental mishaps as well as absorbing smells. I am less inclined to display unframed works in a café setting and need to produce new works to fit the aesthetics of the café business.

I still find exhibiting in both spaces rewarding as both have led on to further opportunities to produce art, be it to a client’s or gallery’s brief, working with a café/shops aesthetic or furthering my own development.

Framed works by Debra McLeod in Leo’s Café

Allpress Espresso in Montreal St, Sydenham, is one of many Allpress cafés around the country promoting the work of new and established artists on their walls. The company, says manager Nick Setie, has worked on projects with particular artists, including New Zealand’s selected artist for the 2017 Venice Biennale Lisa Reihana (who designed a limited edition range of takeaway cups) and in Auckland it runs an artist studio space. It takes no commission, and charges no rental. Rather than acting as a middle person, it passes on the contact details of interested customers directly to the artist.

Nick Setie: Art is very much a part of Allpress Espresso. We shoulder tap some artists and and others approach us. We value helping emerging artists and supporting creative thinking in the community. We have a customers coming in just to see the art or they might know the artist. We get all sorts of feedback from our customers, good and bad – it’s great. A lot of artists just want to get their work seen and there’s no pressure – it isn’t costing them anything so there’s no pressure to sell.

Artworks by Hannah Jensen in Allpress Espresso

Mikayla Begg graduated with a Bachelor of Design in Applied Visual Arts from Ara Polytechnic last year. Through a mixed process of work, study and word of mouth, she meets café owners looking for artists to present on the walls to add a bit of “life” to their café. Often working alongside other artists, she provides the cafés with artist descriptions as well as titles and prices and, usually, business cards or logos. The artist installs the work, takes it down when needed and fills gaps when works sell. Mikayla finds most cafés take a certain commission. She frames her works (she collects and restores frames or, time-frame and budget allowing, heads to a professional framer) and wraps them in bubble wrap, leaving them labelled with the café so if someone buys a work they can get the work home safely.

Mikayla Begg: I am lucky to have had the opportunity as an emerging artist to display work in cafés. It has been great to be able to get works out of storage and on to a wall – for other eyes to see it, even if that is people waiting in line for their early morning coffee. I have found that reaching out to other artists to collaborate with me in displaying works has been helpful for both parties. It takes the pressure off – that I have to fill all of the walls myself – and gives other artists the same opportunity. I guess word of mouth and making contacts/networking is important in the art world. It also means that every month or so we can swap works around for a fresh look. The café owner is good at letting me know if something sells and I try to make sure that the walls are filled with either my work or another artist’s.

It is a bit different to a gallery context in the way that people aren’t in the environment to look specifically at the art, or educated in the art world – they might just happen to come across the works there on the wall and engage with them.

Working out the price to sell has been one of the challenges, as you have to consider the time it has taken to produce the work, the materials and the fact that you pay for the framing. You also don’t want to undersell yourself OR it be so expensive that it doesn’t sell. You always figure it out in the end, but figuring out a price is definitely a challenging aspect of the journey.

The work needs to be presentable and they really need to be framed. No loose works can be presented and there isn’t really any space to put 3D works. The space thing in a café is a challenge – you are mostly limited to just wall space. Something that the customer can grab and take home to put straight onto their wall at home tends to be of interest. My art practice works with botanicals and the natural environment – people seem to love these themes.

Framed artworks by Mikayla Begg

In Fendalton close to the university, Crisp Café on Ilam Road, owned by Nick and Sue Leadbeater has a regular turnaround of art by local artists. The café takes a 10 percent commission but there is no rental. The artists selected are either known to the owner or makes themselves known by walking in the door.

Nick Leadbeater: We show mainly local young artists on our walls. We just love supporting local artists and they are part of the community. Customers love it, seeing things on the wall something different from what you would normally see in a café and for artists it is an opportunity for people who might not normally see their work to see it. It is a way of getting their name out there. Often we get people coming in and wandering around, just looking at the work. It’s slow selling but it’s getting the artist’s name out there and we love supporting them.

Coffee and art can be a good mix, so long as artists select work that will not be easily damaged by heat and sticky fingers, so long as café owners manage the care and transfer of the works on the wall, and so long as customers recognise the often under-estimated value of original works by usually young artists for usually affordable prices.

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