Across the street from Discovery Green stands Phoenicia Specialty Foods Downtown Market, a stately eight-month-old addition to the family-owned grocery store's original Westheimer location. Inside the store, blinding white walls are lined with shelves holding ethnic foods and goods, while freshly baked pita bread puffs work their way down a conveyor belt and into an employee's waiting hands. Walk down what employees call the "runway," and you bump into the store's adjoining Market Bar, an intimate brick space that offers dishes culled from Phoenicia's own aisles, a nightclub atmosphere and art-lined walls -- like artist GONZO247's Yummy! 247 exhibition, which opened to a hip crowd Wednesday night. ("Yummy" is, not-so-coincidentally, Phoenicia's slogan du jour.)
The Market, or MKT, Bar regularly hangs art pieces on its walls, changing exhibitions every few months. "It was time to rotate the art," said Haig Tcholakian, Phoenicia's Wine and Beer Manager, listed on the store's website as "The Brother of Brews." Phoenicia's key players already had GONZO247, graffiti artist extraordinaire and cofounder of street art group Aerosol Warfare, in mind for the next rotation. Tcholakian had taken a graffiti writing skills class from the artist, and Tina Zulu, owner of public relations, web design and branding firm Zulu Creative (Phoenicia is one of her clients), was already a fan of the "spray can artist," as GONZO247 calls himself.
"I asked how he could tie in the market to the art that he created," Zulu remembers saying.
GONZO247 took about three weeks from conception to execution to create a 16-piece series of spray-painted works. "The theme is a day in the life of Phoenicia," he explained.
The pieces are colorful and fun, and they brighten up MKT Bar's dimly lit room. "Delirium" is bright, simple and happy, a neon green elephant on a clear plexi-glass sheet. "Put some pep in your step" is a cheeky and nearly literal title describing what may happen if you eat the subject of the painting: a group of huge green chiles. Following in the epicurean theme is "Mr. Pickles," a bug-eyed cartoonish imagining of the food of the same name. The other pieces follow in this lighthearted way, some singular characters sprayed onto their respective plexi-glass or wood canvases, some more traditional graffiti tag paintings. Looking throughout the bar, it's surprising that GONZO247's graffiti-inspired art didn't make it onto the walls sooner; the brick interior practically begs to be tagged.
"I want this space to be known as not just a bar, but as an art gallery," said Zulu.
Wednesday evening's mix of gallery crawlers and bar crawlers -- guided by the self-proclaimed "jazzy grooves" of DJ Melodic -- was a culture clash of the coolest order. Placing these food-inspired spray paint pieces in Phoenicia's MKT Bar not only allows for both foodies and art lovers to collide, it enhances Phoenicia's popularity, which is growing day by day.
YUMMY! 247 will be on Phoenicia's walls until August 31. For more information, visit phoeniciafoods.com
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