Art and fine dining combine at Olive RestoBar

Carolina and Jorge del Toro in front of Jorge’s painting. Photo by Lorine Parks

Carolina and Jorge del Toro in front of Jorge’s painting. Photo by Lorine Parks

Downey Doings

Who needs Beverly Hills art galleries when we have trendy Olive RestoBar in the Promenade in Downey!

Three local artists recently invited the art-loving community to sample an exhibition of their current work at the Olive. Every seat in the restaurant was filled, every table was taken. This time, the patrons came for the food, nibbling on starters like tomato crostinis and hot fresh pita bread with green sauce. But next time they’ll come for the art.

The night was balmy for February, and the small but tasteful exhibit was staged on the eastern edge of the Olive’s outdoor patio seating area so diners could admire the art while they sipped their craft cocktails. Argentine-born Monica Pucciarelli’s wildly fanciful females were placed side by side with Carolina Del Toro’s unusual photographs of magnified objects and her husband Jorge’s paintings. Look for the alligator – Carolina’s says they are her husband’s hidden signature touch.

The sophisticated Mediterranean infusion ambiance of the Olive RestoBar starts with Sam, its Egyptian owner, said the Olive’s Crystal, who greeted us at the door. The Bar is elaborately stocked with unusual items, even the most expensive tequila, Rey Sol Tequila, a bright orange intense color that is made from the blue agave and comes encased in its Bustamente-designed crystal decanter. More moderately priced drinks are The James Dean cocktail, like a whiskey sour, and the fruity and sweet Blackberry Mojito. Try Chapo y Kate, a tequila-based drink.

Downeyites in the know have been coming here since the Olive opened, enjoying entrées like lamb shank with a mole-like sauce that pairs beautifully with the tender lamb and smooth mashed potatoes. If there’s room, one can order the chocolate chip gelato and mascarpone tiramisu.

The Olive appeals to the taste buds of the palate, while the art stimulates the artist’s palette, of colors. “As a little girl in Mexico,” said Carolina, “I remember looking forward to the times the Indigenous people, Huichol, from my state of Nayarit, would come down from the Sierras to sell their arts and crafts. So beautiful, and very colorful!”

A small state in western Mexico, Nayarit lies between the forested mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Pacific Ocean. Just south are Matanchen Bay’s surfing beaches, while north is Mexcaltitlán Island, considered the birthplace of Aztec civilization.

“Having a large family in a small town, most parents at that time would not usually encourage, nor support the arts,” said Carolina, “because it was believed that art was not going to put food on the table. Though now, I get 100% support from everyone in my family, whether I sell or not!”

Carolina’s favorite subject is “Mother Nature's ‘paintings,’ from a small flower to a vast landscape. She posed beside a black and white photograph that looked like an abstraction but actually was the curve of a magnolia petal, many times magnified.

“Every time I look at Mother Nature colors, patterns, shapes through my lens,” said Carolina, “that is when I find myself most at peace with it. And, whenever I exhibit my images, I always hope more than one viewer will feel the same.”

I love talking about Jorge's amazing talent,” said Carolina.

“He started ceramics while in elementary school,” Carolina said. “He had a friend whose father had a ceramic shop and he remembers hardly waiting to get out of school to go "play" with clay. He says he started making miniature sculptures, like an inch or two in size.”

“Now he has converted the garage into a studio, and owns about five different size kilns.”

“His favorite subject is reptiles,’ said Carolina, ‘but he loves animals in general. Especially those in danger of extinction. In fact, most of his sculptures portray either an extinct animal, like the White Rhino, or one in danger of it. His intention is to create conscientiousness about the beautiful creatures we share our planet with.”

Jorge pointed out the hovering spirit faces in one of his paintings on display at the Olive. “They represent our ancestors and power,” said Jorge. “The pyramid in the center is Mayan and it means strength.”

Jorge del Toro. Photo by Lorine Parks

Jorge del Toro. Photo by Lorine Parks

A whirling figure center-front in the painting captures the swastica-like shape that stood for creation for the Mayan. For the Incas and Aztecs it represented the four seasons due to its four arms, the center symbolizing the sun. Found in many Mesoamerican works of art, this motif must have circulated widely geographically. Persistence revealed to this viewer the alligator, embedded in one of the bent arms of the swastika, its scaly green tail making up the lower part and its open jaws covering the upper limb.

Two artists living together must be fun, but maybe challenging. Is Jorge sometimes late for dinner, because he is absorbed in making a project? “Yes!” says Carolina. “And, not just for dinner. There have been instances when I get ready to go someplace, and wait for him to come back from the studio.”

“But, when he does a few hours later, it's only to apologize because he had forgotten while being absorbed by a new piece he had started. This, at times, was hard for me to understand,” said Carolina, “but eventually, I got used to it. Because it's still happening!” She laughed.

But when Carolina gets absorbed in her own work, do they both go out for dinner? “Yes,” she says. “This is happening more often than not. But, we also plan our outings specifically to talk about projects. Especially his, which absorb more time than mine.”

“Jorge and I were invited to show today, by our friend and DAC board member, Patrizia Monica Pucciarelli,’ said Carolina. And this exhibit is the brainchild of Pat Gil, President of the Downey Arts Coalition.”

Pat and her husband Gil soon arrived, as did Argentina-born artist Monica. “I loved to use colored pencils in high school, when I started to doodle on paper,” Monica said. “The one person who truly inspired and encouraged me to create my very first painting on an actual canvas and made me believe in my gift, was a very good friend who is now my husband.”

“He bought me a large canvas,” said Monica, a self-taught artist. “And “brushes and paint. And he said ‘You can create something awesome.’ Ever since then, I never stopped loving to paint. It’s longing engraved deep in my soul.”

Monica’s pictures look like women in dreams or fantasies. Did she ever do "naturalistic" work, like photographic realism? “I have never felt attracted to naturalistic work,” said Monica. “Why? I always seem to seek to paint that which does not exist in the real or modern world. There’s something extremely fascinating in letting your subconscious guide your paintbrush to express itself in creating something which only exists in your soul.

Monica Pucciarelli stands in front of one of her paintings. Photo by Lorine Parks

Monica Pucciarelli stands in front of one of her paintings. Photo by Lorine Parks

“My artistic style developed over the years as I painted more and in a subconscious way. I seem to always be inspired by the Women Goddess and eras gone by. I believe this shows in my figures and colors and has obeame more and more recurrent in my work. In that respect, I think I began to develop a personal style which is even now, ever-changing slowly.

“When I start a new painting,” Monica said, “I don’t always have a pre -conceived idea of what I will create. Colors seem to choose themselves, but I always love the earth tones as they evoke a more timeless look or era.” Her gorgeous mane of flame-colored hair accompanied her natural preferences.

“So many artists mean so much to me,” said Monica, “but the one that come to mind is Gustav Klimt, my first inspiration. Inspiration also comes from my life, my past, an encounter, a moment, a shadow, a song, a story, the rain.”

Several of Monica’s paintings and collages stood on a wire mesh screen partition. Her work is contemporary figurative and mixed media is her preference both on canvas and paper. “I was born in Mendoza,” Monica said, “a cosmopolitan city in Argentina. We have tree-lined streets, a sunny climate and excellent wines - over 500 wineries. I’m already missing our Fiesta Vendimia, the Grape Harvest Celebration.”

Argentina’s malbec, a red wine in the merlot and cabernet tradition, grows successfully nowhere in the world but Cahors, France, and Mendoza, making that city now one of the Nine Wine Capitals of the world. Monica’s s parents live in Orange County but they thought the soft Downey evening air was still too cold for them to come out to a February showing.

“The paintings that emerge from me reflect different aspects of my soul,” said Monica, “each piece has its own history, its own past. Painting, it is an extension of who I am and each new piece of art is a new learning experience.”

“I draw inspiration by listening to different types of music,” Monica said. “seeing images by artists from the past. I seek to evoke mystery in my art. Rarely do I go into a painting with a preconceived idea. The first brush stroke takes me where I need to go; the colors seem to choose themselves."

Painting by Carolina del Toro, recently exhibited at the Downey Theatre at a Downey Symphony Orchestra concert. Photo by Lorine Parks.

Painting by Carolina del Toro, recently exhibited at the Downey Theatre at a Downey Symphony Orchestra concert. Photo by Lorine Parks.

Unlike Monica’s Napa-like wine country upbringing, Jorge and Carolina come from Mexico, from Jalisco and Nayarit respectively, and they met here in Huntington Park, at a Catholic Youth Organization get-together where Carolina was speaking about friendship and love. She spotted Jorge in the rear of the auditorium, and three years later they were married. We are on our 38th year,” said Carolina proudly. Her parents held back, but Carolina knew that Jorge, winner of several prizes for art while still in high school here, was destined to be a great artist.

While Jorge’s ceramics are too delicate to bring to this exhibition, Jorge expects to be working with a foundry where he will be casting metal sculptures that can be put on view in public places in Downey.

FeaturesLorine Parks