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Arts & Culture


Meet the Artists Behind SA’s Most Iconic Restaurant Interiors

Photo: Courtesy, License: N/A


Duran's Día de los Muertos-inspired remix of Renoir’s 'Luncheon of the Boating Party' at Bistro Vatel

Photo: Rolando Ramirez Ramos, License: N/A

Rolando Ramirez Ramos

Tatum's Mellow Mushroom Man in Space mural at Mellow Mushroom

What would you describe as your signature piece and can you give us the story behind it?
If we’re talking restaurants … when I step into a restaurant or high-end bar or lounge, my whole thing is to get an approach, to get the whole package. … I do logo design, interiors, menu design, I do fine art, I do murals, I do sign design. To me that’s, like, a huge sculpture piece. It’s one. If I get approached by a restaurant or bar that has a weak presence, and they say they don’t need my interior, but I don’t dig their interior and their logo sucks–I won’t touch anything. I’m a fuckin’ diva.

One of my favorite recent projects is Umai Mi. It’s very challenging. It was really fun, my wife and I are a team when it comes to interiors. I do the fine art and the initial meetings. My wife [Carol Martelle Tatum] is more of a conceptualist, a really good art director and designer…

Jason [Dady, Umai Mi’s owner] approached me to change his restaurant completely. It was pretty nutty for him to go, “I have a restaurant that totally works, it’s super successful and I just want to trash it and start completely over.” To me that’s a visionary, and someone that has balls. What a challenge. He came in with very much a theme: Asian meets contemporary, and it’s all mixed up. ... That was really fun for me as an artist because that’s what I do with my icons, mixing things and mish-mashing and not having any rules about offending people, religiously, spiritually or culturally. It’s like a comedian that goes on stage. When it’s across the board it suddenly becomes P.C. I like confusing because it starts a dialogue.

The most recognizable [piece] is The Luxury. It’s outside, it’s public and it’s a monkey going like this [makes ‘OK’ sign, see previous page]. It’s got fun eyes. It talks to people when they walk by. I’ve had people who live in the [1221 Broadway] condos, they take time to email me, find my name and say, “I just want you to know, when I wake up in the morning and I walk my dog, I always get such a big smile when I walk by the monkey. My day’s going to be OK.”

Did Andrew Weissman want that monkey?
Nah, he just said “I want something cool up there.” I said “I got this monkey, this OK monkey.” I create icons. Now what I’m doing is licensing. I licensed that to Andrew, he paid me a fee to use my monkey. I own that monkey. It’s kind of like public art. It’s fine art, but still related to the restaurant. … Personally, I like it. It sets the tone without being too commercial or becoming a logo. That rides the fine line of commercial, but it’s still my art, original.

What was your first show in San Antonio?
1992, I had my first show at Rosario’s which back then was called Babylon Grill.

Was it a conscious decision to start showing outside of galleries?
I hate galleries; I love museums but I hate galleries. I still play them once in a while. I have a big gallery show in Houston at Summer Street Studio in the Art Warehouse district. The art scene in Houston is crazy, but the money is so much better. I love living here but the art scene in Houston is a lot bigger.

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