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Restaurants, hair salons and coffee shops make the most of their wall space by showcasing local art.

Random Acts of Art

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As summer grinds to a screeching halt, so too does the local art scene. In the spirit of turning over a new autumn leaf, most galleries wait until September to usher in their next show. But this does not mean that one should place viewing fresh and exciting art on hold until the turn of the calendar. Rather, one simply needs to look in less conventional places — and fortunately, Richmond has no paucity of these.

Restaurants, coffee shops and hair salons, to name a few, offer local art in addition to their other services. What could be more pleasant than a glass of pinot noir and pop art? Or nibbling a scone with surrealism? Or even having a manicure with mannerism? But customers are not the only ones to benefit from visual arts in non-gallery settings; the artists, employees, and owners of such establishments are giving the practice a definitive thumbs up as well.

"I get new walls every month," says Ted Doll, owner of Zeus Gallery Café in the Museum District. "As the art changes, the space changes." Zeus has been hanging local art for at least the past five years, offering artists a well-known venue for exposure to their work. Doll, who is typically approached by artists, provides a Monday night opening with a spread of food and four weeks of display time. How does he choose which artist to show? "Whatever looks cool," he says. "I generally look for color to dress up our walls. I avoid food subjects and tend to choose abstract work or landscapes."

The current show at Zeus, therefore, is a digression for Doll because it features Christine Ferrera's nine paintings of poplike dancing food and surrealistic heads on Popsicle sticks. With garish colors, phallic forms and suggestive phrases such as "evil," "taste it" and "hot," Ferrera's works have an erotic overtone not typical of Zeus's art. Yet, no one seems to be complaining. Perhaps the combination of delicious vittles and erogenous art offers the ultimate in fine dining experience.

At Betsy's in Carytown, caffeine isn't the only means of waking up loyal customers. Juxtaposed with Bao Johnson's small abstract shapes and larger figurative works of appropriated European masterworks, James Parker's paintings also denote a subtle but sexually charged subject matter. Parker also appropriates famous art by painting loosely structured versions of 19th-century Japanese erotic wood-block prints. Of course, unless one is familiar with the originals, they won't have a clue about their naughty nature since Parker carefully crops the most "potent" sections (such as a woman having sex with an octopus).

If a haircut and a show is more to your liking, Pine Street Barber Shop in Oregon Hill has been displaying local art on and off since 1981. Booked for a year in advance, the owner, Michael Gahan, has turned to a friend to help curate and organize his shows. And the results are a win-win situation for artists, owner and customers.

"There are lots of artists in town and I like to help them out and provide an outlet [to show their art]," Gahan says. "Additionally, it does bring in new customers — friends of the artist may visit our shop to see the art and then stay as a paying customer." Pine Street currently is showing abstract expressionistic paintings by Nathan Motley. With thickly applied pigments and overt gestural slashes, Motley's energetic renderings seem to mirror the activity of the shop's occupants.

These businesses (and many other ones like them) are practicing random, but not senseless acts of artistic kindness and beauty. So have that goat cheese salad or that latte or that pedicure and sit back and

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