If you had spent time dining at Riche this summer, there was a chance that you could have spotted someone being immortalised mid-bite in a painting. In a collaboration with Loyal Gallery, they invited in the artist Constance Tenvik to spend a month at the restaurant, bring in some guests and paint their portraits and they worked their way through Riche’s food and wine. The end result of this is thirteen portraits, capturing a summer at Riche, now going up on their walls under the title Riche Lunch Sessions. We had a quick chat with Tenvik before the exhibition opened.
So first of all, where did the idea for this exhibition concept come from?
It happened very organically. I had been talking to Loyal Gallery about how I love painting portraits live. The situation brings about a special concentration and it’s a beautiful way to encounter another human. Now, Riche had wanted to involve Loyal for a while to show one of the artists they’re working with (I started working with Loyal in 2016). Upon talking to my gallerists about an upcoming residency (Malongen) in Stockholm and wanting to paint people outside of my own circle, it suddenly made so much sense to put the pieces together and do the portraits there. Soon they’ll all be hanging on the walls of Riche Lilla Baren as painted guests.
How was it to be in the middle of the restaurant painting, to be working in a live setting?
The setting of Riche was lovely of course. It’s such a classic atmosphere with the sounds of silverware, chatter and things being poured. I would come with my brushes and paints, and it didn’t take long before it was as natural for the waiters to fill up my water bucket as it was to lay a knife on the table. It was funny, to in a sense re-enact what I would imagine a restaurant by Dramaten would be like about a hundred years ago – with bohemians drawing and talking about the big themes of life. The equivalent of Riche in Oslo, where I grew up, is Theatercaféen. My great grandmother was the first person in Norway to import bikinis. She attracted exciting personalities and had a great sense of style. She would hang out there every time she got the chance. Anyways, the situation at Riche was disruptive in a sweet way. I loved interacting with my guest, the other guests, the staff, people passing by – it definitely created a different social situation. A wink to the day!
And how did people generally react to you?
The meetings felt genuine. I had chosen my guests with intent. Some I already knew and some I didn’t, but they all had something that sparked my curiosity. It was a treat to get to be in conversation. Charlotte Birnbaum was already seated with a glass of Chardonnay when I entered the restaurant and she gave me her beautiful book Bon! Bon! On The Charms of Sweet Cuisine. She told me about sugar sculptures and the fascinating history of art on the plate. Kakan Hermansson gave me some new feminist perspectives. Eva Livjin-Olin talked about love and the importance of giving when you have a lot. Lena Josefsson has collected my work for a while, but I hadn’t met her before painting her. I could go on and on…….
Do you think the fact that they were in a relaxed place, with food and drink, made them more open to being painted and engaged with?
Of course. Every step of this was so generous.
Did the environment and task affect the way approached the work, the techniques you used and the style you went for?
I had to be able to bring all the materials I needed and to be able to finish a portrait within the limits of a lunch. I chose materials I already felt comfortable with – my gouaches from Lascaux and the block of paper from Arches that measures 26×18 cm. My style stayed the same. With the exception of Martin Luuk who ended up looking more like a dragon than what I had aimed for. But when you paint live there’s no going back. The gestures of that day become the painting.
Finally, how does it feel to have captured a summer at Riche, a moment in time?
I’m so glad I got to do this. I’m thankful to Calle Carboni for the total trust and enthusiasm – combating the myth of the starving artist! And of course to the beautiful guests who showed up and shared their thoughts and experiences with me. I certainly enjoyed being a regular at Riche, playing beret artist.
Riche Lunch Sessions with Constance Tenvik and Loyal, Opening Sep 3 at 17:00. Riche Lilla Baren, Birger Jarlsgatan 4. www.constancetenvik.com
Main Image: Calle at Riche, 2019, gouache on paper 26x18cm. Right, Jenny Danielsson with Love for LA and a Plate of Biff Rydberg. All images courtesy the artist and Loyal Gallery, Stockholm