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Davis, California

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Brushstrokes, Barolo and Berberechos: fine dining and artwork converge at Aioli Bodega

A jester on a pig. Aerial views of rivers, grassy fields, countryside. The Davis Amtrak Station, depicted in brushstrokes. Wetlands. Step foot into Davis’s Aioli Bodega tapas restaurant on 2nd Street, and an ambiance of refined dining, wining and scenic art awaits you.

Aziz Bellarbi-Salah, waiter at Aioli Bodega and family member of the restaurant owners, said that the owners of Aioli have a good partnership with the John Natsoulas Gallery. As a result, they display many of the paintings from his art gallery collection.

“We do try to pick pieces that match our color scheme though,” Bellarbi-Salah said. “Landscape paintings often go well with the subtle orange shade of the walls.”

Although the owners try to change the artwork periodically, Phil Gross’s scenic paintings have been on display at Aioli Bodega since last spring.

Phil Gross

He enjoys a good port and brandy and can often be seen cruising around town in his funky old van. In his off time, he hitches rides with pilot friends to snap pictures while he’s up in the sky. You might also find him culling through rocks.

“Phil Gross has really taken the world of scenery to a whole new level,” said Bellarbi-Salah, an acquaintance of Gross’s.

Gross’s paintings placate diners at the Aioli Bodega, complementing the wine barrels, orange walls and candles hanging from the ceiling while making for a refined night on the town – much like a winery or a restaurant you’d expect to find in Napa.

“I’m often oil painting till the crows fly home,” Gross said. “I am drawn to unique high angle and low angle perspectives, strong contrast in lighting, and compressed telescopic viewpoints.”

A self-taught painter, Gross received his bachelor’s in geology from UC Davis. It was working as an investigative geologist in the late ’70s and early ’80s that gave Gross the opportunity to explore his natural surroundings.

He said that, over the years, he has grown to appreciate the valley and the countryside more, scenery that is abundant in Davis and much of Yolo County.

“Being a geologist and all, I’d mostly leave for the mountains or the coast,” Gross said. “But once I started painting I found that the valley is a fascinating place, and not as commonly portrayed.”

Gross describes his artwork as nostalgic and familiar, portraying the unchanging landscape as a permanent comfort that remains static no matter how much change the individual undergoes.

In addition to painting with both feet on the ground, Gross said he has gotten to know a few local pilots over the last few years, who take him flying over the Sacramento River and down the valley so that he can take pictures for future painting inspiration. Many of his aerial paintings are derived from these trips.

Perhaps his most prominent painting depicts Road 27 (the road from Davis to Winters) and is on display above three tables close to the entrance of Aioli. Gross said he did two versions at separate times of day for different lighting effects.

“There’s an element to it where I think I captured the stillness and the vastness,” Gross said. “There was also this heavenly feeling to it that I think the valley can carry in mid afternoon in the summer. It’s quite spectacular in a quiet way.”

In addition to his scenery paintings, Gross has depicted desserts and animals, drawing inspiration from the renowned UC Davis artist Wayne Thiebaud. Among his animal artwork is a beautiful rendition of a grazing Yolo Cow.

Apart from Aioli, he has had work on display at The Artery in Davis, the Elliott Fouts Gallery in Sacramento, John Natsoulas Gallery and the Yolo County Library’s traveling exhibition – among others.

Currently, Gross’s work can be found at a couple of group shows, one of which is at the Sacramento Airport, the other which will take place at the John Natsoulas Gallery later this month. Visit his website philgross.net for information about purchasing.

Roxanne O’Brien and Elizabeth Solomon

A smattering of both O’Brien’s and Solomon’s artwork can be found in the main dining area of Aioli Bodega. The majority of their work, however, lies in the special reservations room that small parties can book for their own festive gatherings.

O’Brien started as a lettering artist and calligrapher before making the leap to fine art.  She said her inspiration is typically drawn from these mediums but has recently developed to more figurative abstractions. Some of her most notable artwork on display at Aioli includes a sculptural rendition of Venus and what look to be watercolor paintings of human faces. O’Brien now works full-time as a chef and professor of culinary arts at American River College in Sacramento.

Elizabeth Solomon of Sacramento can be credited for her portrait of a jester riding a pig, on display in the reservations room. Typical of her artwork is the use of acrylics, oil pastels and mixed media to portray large, vibrant subjects ranging from many-colored clowns, birds with accented plumage and well-fed pigs.

For more information about any of these artists and for information about purchasing, visit Aioli Bodega.

ELENI STEPHANIDES can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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