I met Sarah Kabat-Marcy in January of 2016, on my first day of work at Sierra Mar in Big Sur. I had just been hired the week prior and was undergoing training. While I sat there talking to my fellow colleagues during our meal break, I introduced myself and explained the inspiration and ideas behind the "Off the Grid" series. Sarah, who at the time was sitting a few tables over to my right, overheard me and asked to see some of my work. I showed her my painting of "Mr. Bixby" on my iPhone and she asked for my website.
As a result, we met up for coffee and I brought over the magazine portfolio I had designed and she discussed the possibility of commissioning paintings for "Cultura", a new latin american influenced restaurant set to open up later that year. She showed me the space: a dark, dusty, stained-carpet dive-bar hidden in a back-alley with a mountain of chairs in the corner climbing up to the ceiling. The place had definitely seen brighter days. I used to go there years ago after viewing art shows with my family– we'd head over there afterward and have a bite to eat and chat.
We strolled the space and she gave me her vision of this dining room filled with a NY men's lounge red leather couches, touches of vibrant avocado green accents, detailed still-lifes spread throughout, skulls, bones, and an assortment of agave plants. Sarah envisioned blending the bizarre with the beautiful, the offbeat with the contemporary, a classic apothecary with a oaxacan bar, the traditional with the modern. What amazed me most, was the trust she confided in me, and the full creative freedom I was given for the installation pieces. She explained that she didn't want to intrude on my creative process and didn't want to disrupt the integrity of my work by adding her influence.
I went home that night and came up with the concept of having women posing in renaissance-esque poses. I didn't know where to go from there but it took about another month before we finally came to the conclusion that we didn't want to go with the typical vibrant brightly colored vibe. I went with muted tones of black and white and added touches of red to their lips, and greens to their earrings, an electrical hummingbird or a bat mid-flight, a spark of pure zinc white in their pupil. Just as the "Off the Grid" collection was important to me and personal on so many levels, I wanted this series to tell a story that was true to "Cultura." The series entitled "Las Mezcalilleras" represents and voices of the women who've helped in the cultivation, distillation, and traditions of mezcal production.
Sarah is an extremely knowledgable sommelier with an amazing understanding of food and beverage, which she is currently translating to mezcal spirits. She carefully selected five different types of agave used in making mezcal and gave me a list of distinct characteristics for each of them. Based off of these descriptors, I created a women embodying those personality traits, each with a different backstory and an energy true to the spirt of their corresponding agave. Isabella displays maturity, Beatriz–curiosity, Gabriela–spiciness, Teresa–rarity, Carmen–approachability.
I met with my art mentor Pamela Carrol before I signed contracts in search of advice and recommendations for how much to charge for the work Sarah was asking for, which included the logo, graphic design work, creating a brand identity and the five paintings. I gave her my thoughts on the prices I was planning on offering for the individual tasks, and she told me to do what I thought was appropriate. It's uncomfortable for an artist, especially one that doesn't know what they are doing, to ask for money. Especially when the client is paying for something that hasn't been created yet. Nevertheless, I offered Sarah an outline of my quote for the project and the work that entailed for each part. She listened carefully, didn't flinch when she saw the numbers, and she took out her checkbook and gave me a 50% deposit. I don't think people understand what a defining moment in my life that was for me. I felt like I was truly seen as an artist for the first time in my life. Sarah, presented me with an amazing opportunity to showcase my talents and I refused to let her down. I can honestly say, she was the first person to take me seriously as an artist and to support me not just with encouragement, but financially as well.
The following 5 months would become a whirlwind of mixed emotions, late night struggles in the studio, long days at the restaurant, exhausting visits to the gym and never-ending rounds of coffee to stay afloat. Adulting 80 hours a week is what that's called. Looking back on it all, it was a testing time for me. I wasn't sure if I was capable of doing it, nor that I was going to be able to survive, let alone succeed.
And yet I survived. I'm still here. Still breathing. Still working. Still painting.
The restaurant opened it's doors and was received with open arms throughout the community. Quite frankly, it took the Peninsula by a storm and seeing the restaurant fully-booked on weekends was like music to my ears. I began serving there a couple nights a week to supplement my income and every once in a while I'd look up from the tables and see my art on the walls and it'd hit me as to how far I've come.
The Cultura contract was one of the most challenging and testing moments in my life and it pushed me passed my limits and even beyond that. I'm oh so grateful for the opportunity I was given by Sarah and I will never forget this moment for as long as I live. Even though I endured a lot of setbacks, mistakes, pain, problems and struggles, it was totally worth every second of it.
And let me tell you. I want more.