Arts & Culture
Meet the Artists Behind SA’s Most Iconic Restaurant Interiors
Published: May 28, 2014
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.