The buzz about coffee shop art
by Claire Miglionico
When it comes to Calgaryborn and -raised photographer Jeremy Fokkens, it was the vibrant and art-engaged atmosphere at Higher Ground Cafe in Kensington that made showcasing his art there so appealing. “The owner of the shop was looking for something different,” he said, comparing his work to the travel photos typically displayed in coffee shops. Fokkens, 27, brought that touch of individuality with “Look” — his current series at Higher Grounds. It is comprised of close-up photography mounted on canvas transfers or acrylic mounts.
The series is meant to encourage people to take a closer look at the things that surround them. “There are moments, even photographs, and details in everything. I think we often look past that,” he said. Fokkens said that the detail work presented in his photos were all hard to get. “For the Cecil Hotel one, I actually ended up paying for one night (at the Cecil) to get the night shots,” he said. The hotel, which is no longer in operation, was notorious for gang activity, drugs, and prostitutes.
On top of his shot of the Cecil Hotel’s vibrant neon sign, the exhibition includes a close-up of a parrot’s head, a dandelion captured in all its splendour in Rwanda, and a wide-angle view of part of the copious record collection in Inglewood’s Recordland, among many other equally intriguing photographs. “I like shooting things that have a lot of imperfections, something that can either tell a story, has some sort of texture or depth to it, makes you think or gives the audience a bit of a reaction.”
Dan Clapson, general manager at Higher Ground says the displays have always brought positive responses: “Our patrons enjoy the art and photography that we showcase here. Whenever a new exhibit goes up, people take notice, and the words are always kind.” Fokkens has experienced likewise feedback from customers. “I find that whenever I’m in there taking (my work) down or up, I get bombarded with people who come out left, right and centre asking things like, “oh my goodness, I like that photo,” or, “oh, where or how did you take that?” For University of Calgary student Calla Savary, 20, Higher Ground is a cozy place
to meet up with friends, read or study.
Although she says the art is usually a background commodity, she says it still adds to her coffee experience. “Art in coffee shops is vital. It makes a huge difference. I love that you can even buy the art here,” she said. “On an aesthetic level, it is nice to not have bare walls,” Clapson wrote in an email. “On a more serious note, we work hard to be a hub in our community for local arts and music. It’s good to know our patrons appreciate support of local culture.”
As for Fokkens’ photography, Savary enjoyed it. “I like this,” she said pointing to Fokkens’ photo in Recordland, called “My Playlist.” “I wish I had that kind of record collection!” she said. Tim Westbury, programming director at The New Gallery says coffee shops offer great exposure for artists and photographers alike. “The chief benefit is that the work is being seen by a relatively broad spectrum of the public. Many people continue to find the standard ‘white cube’ of a contemporary art gallery to be quite intimidating; coffee shops provide a much more comfortable, informal setting,” he wrote in an email.
“The only con I see in art being displayed in a coffee shop context is that ultimately, it’s just part of the background and decor.” Fokkens happily lives off his photography and enjoys traveling to developing countries. The end of March will see Fokkens travel to Tibet, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh for a full year. “I just hope my photographs inspire people, whether it’s in photography or whether it inspires them to, this may sound like a complete cliche, but inspires them to do what they really want to do (in life).” “It’s nothing but hard work. But to really do what you want to do is the best thing there is,” he said with a laugh. Catch Fokkens at Higher Ground for a reception on Nov. 23, 7-10 p.m. with free wine and munchies to boot. With files from Sheena Manabat.