Walking into Robert's Espresso on August 29, was a surprise, the simple storefront cafe was transformed into an art gallery featuring the works of Ian Lee and Sarah Sargent. Yet as Lee explained, "our work is plural; we are a team," he said.
Bright, bold contemporary paintings covered the walls of the cafe on Irving Street near 18th Ave in San Francisco's Sunset District. The impact the paintings made on the cafe interior was dramatic. Owner, Robert Ayanian has been wanting to do something to celebrate his six-months mark since his first official day of business as Robert's Espresso, filling in an empty space that was formerly, Alvin's Scrumptious Coffee and Tea.
"I am a fan of pop art, I like the rock and roll influence, said Ayanian as he pointed to the glittering rendering of rock music legend David Bowie. The painting set directly behind the Espresso bar pulls at the eyes for attention, drawing a customer walking in the door right to the counter of the Espresso bar. "It's a conversation piece, very stimulating and entertaining," said Ayanian.
While Ayanian is gradually becoming more acquainted with the neighborhood and its routine since opening in February, he his confident business will continue to increase. Robert's Espresso has a consistent stream of regulars, like technical writer Riley VanDyke. "I think the art work is awesome," he said as he was pleased to learn that Ayanian will be featuring art on a consistent basis. "I have two local artists lined up to display their work at the cafe and one photographer after that," said Ayanian.
But for right now Ayanian is pleased to feature Ian Lee and Sarah Sargent's work and wants to help them sell their work too; as he said, "Ian, Sarah and I have become friends now." Lee considers himself very blessed because in a very short time, Lee has been able to pursue an artistic endeavor he has had ever since he can remember. "I never thought I could draw, sketch or paint," said Lee.
Attempts at it earlier in his life were a struggle and he gave up. Born and raised in Canada, Lee said he lived a baring life until he met Sargent. Well, perhaps in artistic terms and not entirely boring because Lee is a musician, a drummer for the tribute band "Led Zeppelin 2."
He and Sargent met in Seattle, WA (her hometown) while on tour with the band. Ian and I met in Phoenix where we lived together before moving to San Francisco. I met Ian while he was on tour with Led Zeppelin 2 and one of their shows was in Phoenix, it was instant love at first sight and we've been inseparable ever since. As a trained artist, Sargent shared her knowledge and skills with Lee. "Sarah encouraged me to let out my ideas on canvas," he said. The rock and roll influence, no doubt is from Lee.
"Painting with Ian has been an amazing experience," said Sargent. "Painting is typically a "solo" activity so getting the chance to break out of that mold and collaborate to create art with someone I admire as much as Ian has been a great pleasure," she said. "I'm very inspired by 1940's and '50's glamor and kitsch, said Sargent; and we both share a passion for rock n roll, which is what initially brought us together."
Sargent showed him how to sketch and put together the layout of an idea for the canvas. She would not let him give up. And as he explained it, "as one painting was completed, Sarah would say, 'see that was fun, let's do another!'" "I also play drums, said Sargent, and so we traded art lessons for drum lessons."
Walking into Robert's Espresso on that Wednesday morning, was a surprise for this reporter, because the paintings have an instant appeal. The simple storefront cafe was transformed into an art gallery as it featured the works of Ian Lee and Sarah Sargent. Yet as Lee explained more than once, "our work is plural; we are a team," he said. We come up with ideas together, I sketch them on and then we paint them together.
"That is how we started painting together, that is why I say the work is plural; we are a team," said Lee. In September of last year, while at an engagement in Phoenix with the band, Lee and Sargent approached a gallery, on East Roosevelt Street then called "Gallery Celtica." We were living in Phoenix at the time we approached Gallery Celtica about featuring our art.
"We are in the midst of a name change and a renovation," said gallery owner, Ira Hayden, an Arizona native. He was excited to mention that soon the gallery will emerge as Roosevelt Gallery. Yet, he was happy to say that he was very pleased with Ian and Lee.
"They were here for more than two months and their work took up the entire wall," he said. "Sarah and Ian kept adding to it." Hayden noted that while the economic recession has had an impact, the downturn in the economy has not stopped people's interest and love of art.
"People kept asking for larger prints of their work, because that is more affordable, said Hayden, yet we sold well over half a dozen of their paintings."
Being in the art gallery business for more than 30 years, Hayden noted that he has seen and worked with many artists over the years. "Being an artist myself, I know what it is like, I know it is not easy and a lot of hard work, so I like to encourage all artists to show and use my gallery space if possible.
"Ian and Sarah were really nice people," Hayden said. "I would have them back anytime." Compliments like that no doubt are music to Lee's ears. He is amazed that so much has been accomplished in less than two years. "This is all new to me," he said. Both he and Sargent are learning the business aspect of the art scene. Another set of paintings are displayed a few blocks away at Cafe de La Flora formerly the Old Jerusalem Cafe, also on Irving Street.
Lee considers this a good start, "I am not intimidated by the commercial/business side of it," he said. "It is all new to us, but Sarah and I are learning it all as we go along."
"Falling in love (with Sarah) and painting has been completely unexpected and chaotic," said Lee. Excited by all the prospects, "We are now doing collages," he said.
For more information about Ian Lee and Sarah Sargent and their art displayed at Robert's Espresso, visit the cafe's web site.