Fish Swim Along George Street

Michele PolanIs there any cafe in town where you can have a muffin and a cup of java without looking up to see art?

Apparently very few.

The latest, for this coffee drinker, is Cafe George by Paula, at the back of the lobby at the 300 George St. biomedical building, where Michele Polan is showing large and medium-sized oils on canvas depicting fish and butterflies.

The show is called The Beauties of Nature. (An artist’s reception takes place there Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m.)

Polan is a New Haven artist without art school pedigrees. She has nevertheless exhibited at numerous venues including the New Haven Public Library, Hospital of St. Raphael, Claire’s Corner Copia, West Haven Public Library, and Barnes and Noble in Waterbury.

I asked her what an artist thinks of showing work in an eatery as opposed to a view-ery, er, gallery.

She said she hadn’t thought about it too much. Polan said while she’s taken many courses at area universities and at Creative Art Workshop, her goal is to go to art school.

In the meantime she is grateful to show, which she considers a form of sharing. “It’s okay [to show in a restaurant], it’d be nice if it’s a gallery [too].”

“If you want to share, maybe a cafe is as good as a gallery,” she added.

An admittedly small sample of the customers on a visit one day to Cafe George by Paula—three people—all said they didn’t pay attention to the art on the wall.

On the other hand, they’d notice it if weren’t there.

Allan Appel PhotoThe most attention was being paid by 6-year-old Logan Dubuc of Waterbury. She and her dad were killing some time waiting for her brother to finish an appointment upstairs.

They were sitting in the far corner, now dominated by Polan’s large fish with waving, angelic fins and puckering mouths.

Polan’s creations are neither de-natured nor scientifically accurate. Something about the earnestness of their portrayal makes them more than decorative.

Portrayed sideways as most of the compositions are, these fish, with their lidless fish eyes, are staring at you poignantly. They want you to look up from the cappuccino, however briefly, to acknowledge them and whatever message they convey from their world.

Cafe George sits at the bottom of 300 George, which houses many offices including Haskins Labs. That space is one of the featured venues for art shows curated by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven.

Art with a scientific connection down below at Cafe George by Paula seems as fitting as similar art above.

Logan was finishing up a letter she was writing with crayons. Her dad was sitting across the table.

Above them loomed two of Polan’s icthyological compositions. Logan’s dad said he preferred walls decorated by art to walls decorated with nothing at all.

Logan pronounced both paintings nice, especially the small seahorse-like figure, nearest to her at the bottom left of the angel-like fish, called “Opah Moonfish.”

“I like sea creatures,” she said.

At a table nearby Professor of Biostatistics Peter Peduzzi, of the Yale School of Public Health was deep in conversation with a colleague. When they gathered their coffee cups and utensils on a tray and prepared to leave, they admitted to not having looked up at the wall at Polan’s pictures at all.

But that was not a negative review.

Quite the contrary. “If it’s not there, you notice the barren walls. The color is especially important in the wintertime,” he said.

Although he didn’t actually look at the art, he supports the concept of more art on more walls. “It’s good for the public health,” he added.

Polan has 19 works in the space, roughly divided by fish in the front of the galley, with a smaller number of butterfly paintings in the back space, which is more sunlit. “The fish are taking over,” she said.

Polan said that although she hasn’t sold many of works yet, a distinct advantage to the eatery is financial.

“Galleries generally want 50 percent,” she said.

Cafe George by Paula takes no cut. If Polan sells, all the money comes to her.

That’s a plus. The down side is security. Galleries have watchful eyes. Cafes have staff who are more focused on the lattes and paninis than the paintings.

Polan in fact had one painting stolen.  “I was quite disgruntled when the piece was stolen at St. Raphael’s. You’d think the doctors’ and nurses’ salaries were good enough to buy the piece,” she said. That was back in about 2000.

Polan paints on, hoping to sell, but that’s not the main point. “I’m doing [the painting] to share the work. It gives me a purpose, doing something productive with my art.”

The show runs through February, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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