Natalie Morris's "Phoenix."

editor’s note: Welcome to Off the Wall, The Indy’s new visual art column where no show is off-limits, whether or not it’s hanging on a traditional gallery wall. Check in every few weeks for a roundup of the worthy art we’ve scoped out-all around town.

Visit even a small cross-section of Santa Barbara’s galleries and museums, and one thing becomes clear: There’s quite a diverse selection of visual art in this little city. What you might miss, though, is the fact that some of the most engaging examples are hovering just over our shoulders as we enjoy a strong cup of coffee, rush to a business meeting, or browse the racks in our favorite retail stores. Next time you’re in one of these establishments, take a minute to look up from your laptop, gourmet burger, or credit card slip, and enjoy the view. You never know what you might discover.

Visual Appetite

Industrious visual artists are always looking to expose their artwork to a variety of consumers, including the ubiquitous Santa Barbara foodies. Whether inadvertent viewers are looking for upscale dining or vegan-friendly fare, everything looks better on a full stomach. David J. Diamant, a regional digital artist, is currently showing his embellished giclee prints and acrylic paintings of urban landscapes at Quantum Restaurant & Lounge, where they complement the restaurant’s sophisticated atmosphere. Similarly, Pierre Lafond Bistro is enhancing its gastronomical offerings by introducing large-scale decorative photographs on canvas by artist Natalie Morris-both on its walls and on its menu. And Craig Rudholm delights pescetarians with his gyotaku paintings at Sojourner Cafe, where colorful images of sea life are imprinted on paper or canvas using actual fish.

High-Octane Art

Coffee houses and art go hand in hand like cappuccinos and pastries. Throughout the years, those in the coffee-loving crowd have come to expect visual stimulation along with their caffeine buzz and croissant. Some of the best examples of this successful pairing can be found at Java Jones, two of whose cafes currently feature the work of Santa Barbara artists. At its lower State Street locale, the java giant presents Alden Marin’s charming, Basquiat-esque portraits painted on found objects like gum wrappers, cigarette packs, and-appropriately-coffee cups. On mid State Street, Mellissa Shield’s collages of pharaoh heads, Greek columns, and Buddhist statues are an art history lesson come alive. And Reds, the comfy-funky coffee house located next to the row of East Beach wine-tasting rooms, simulates an art-chic living room hung with seductively jarring portraits by illustrator Ingrid Bodnar.

The Business of Art

Taking a cue from the art-savvy acumen of restaurants and coffee houses, other S.B. businesses are now using art to entice their clientele with appealing visual effects. C’est Cheese curates rotating exhibitions as a backdrop to its dairy delectables; the shop is now showing the fetching expressionist-inspired paintings of Monica Hui. Gary Chafe’s monotype print series of iceberg portraits at The Book Den has bookstore browsers daydreaming about cooler climates. The Brooks Institute of Photography makes use of the downtown, Julia Morgan-designed Lobero Building with an exhibition documenting student trips to Argentina, China, and India. And true to its mission to serve Santa Barbara residents, the Nonprofit Support Center in Goleta features one of the most extensive and diverse collections of work by Santa Barbara artists in a series of exhibitions adorning the third-floor hallway of its Old Town building.

Film Strips

In another show of support for regional artists, Samy’s Camera has dedicated an informal gallery space at the back of its store to feature shows, the most recent of which is Notable Rejects, a compelling photography exhibition of Americana imagery by Matthew Straka. Among his selection of intriguing images are photos of residents from Helendale, California, home of Exotic World, a unique museum that celebrates the history of stripping and the art of exotic dancing.

Alden Marin (

At Java Jones (728 State St.) through mid October.

David J. Diamant (

At Quantum Restaurant & Lounge (201 W. Carrillo St.) through October 31.

Natalie Morris (

At Pierre Lafond Bistro (516 State St.) through September 30.

Craig Rudholm

At Sojourner Cafe (134 E.Canon Perdido St.) through September 29.

Mellissa Shields (

At Java Jones (1101 State St.) through mid October.

Ingrid Bodnar (

At Reds (211 Helena Ave.) through September 30.

Monica Hui (

At C’est Cheese (825 Santa Barbara St.) through December.

Gary Chafe

At The Book Den (15 E. Anapamu St.) through September 30.

Matthew Straka

At Samy’s Camera (614 Chapala St.) through October 1.

Nonprofit Support Center (

Show through mid October (5638 Hollister Ave., Ste. #200).

Lobero Building ()

Show through October 1 (924 Anacapa St.).


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