Charlie Levine has a latte with Eleanor Cunningham for the Wednesday Event.
 A highlight of going to a big name gallery is not always the art on show, nor even the bookshop: I’ll admit it, it’s often the kicks I get out of the café. I like my art with a slice of cake and a pot of tea, which makes it handy that the latest Eleanor Cunningham show is in a coffee shop. But what does that do to art? We’re used to seeing dodgy prints and posters as interior decoration in coffee shops, or sometimes bad oils and watercolours, where, charitably, you think “that must be a friend of the owners”. Blue chip artists, and those who speculate in their work, have also mined this territory. There was Damien Hirst’s famous Pharmacy restaurant, which he opened, tellingly, in partnership with PR Guru Matthew Freud, and which closed in 2003. Pharmacy was designed around the artist’s work. In Las Vegas, “fake” restaurants trumpet their authenticity with real artworks — so Picasso at the Bellagio, an ersatz French bistro, is hung with genuine Picassos; while Renoir, now closed, at the Mirage, had real Renoirs on the walls, which was an enjoyable reversal, when you consider that in Paris, the restaurant would be real, but the Renoirs most likely fake…        All of which is by way of making the point that when we are judgmental about art in restaurants, we’re usually thinking, disparagingly, of the dodgy prints end of things, rather than the higher end, and the middle ground tends to be forgotten entirely. Add to that the dichotomy between the way we experience art in galleries: white cubes, hushed whispers; and the way we live with it at home: glass of wine, cups of coffee; and art in restaurants and cafés becomes a topic worthy of more investigation and discussion. So — on to the artist herself… Eleanor Cunningham is one of those rare artists who sits slightly under the radar but is making some of the most beautiful art I have seen in a while. Her work is based in technology and the manipulation of the old and new. Trained in film photography, gaining her MA at Chelsea last year (2012), she explores the medium to find how far it could be pushed and morphed into something else. She scans her original photographs, then alters them digitally, before printing and layering on water and paint, completely changing their original mirror of reality. They become abstract, organic, beautiful and fascinating. She describes her works as “using alternative methods, [my] practice is concerned with the struggles of nature vs man–made — combining analogue techniques with digital technology.” By using film photography, the grain and subtle dust marks and scratches play an important part as she wants to extinguish the notion that image and film has to be high definition and flawless. “This expectation of the image leaves no mystery — using physical elements such as photographic film, water and ink means there is the chance of the ‘happy’ mistake. [My] process brings it closer and seems more real to us, as we ourselves have imperfections.” These finished pieces are no longer photographs, rather collages of various techniques and mediums. They are dream–like and oddly, through all their manipulation and change, flawless. There is a mystery and story within each picture, with no start or end, rather a loop of technology and a loop of fiction. You can now see four of Cunningham’s pieces on display at Fairly Square, London’s first fair trade bar and café, until the end of July 2013. The café is typical of pop–ups of this type found around the world; nothing matches, and as the light dims outside, lamps with quirky shades are switched on inside. Anything can look like art in a gallery, but it takes strong work to survive this context, and Cunningham’s succeeds in spades. Fairly Square: 51 Red Lion St, near Holburn / Chancery Lane. C Levine      

CAFÉ DEL ARTE