In a Mellow Tone: Earthly elements define Candace Compton Pappas' paintings at Cafe Zola


Candace Compton Pappas' Journey With Branches painting

Journey With Branches, ink, oil on paper 22" x 30"

Candace Compton Pappas' paintings evoke the dirt at dusk, the soil at sunset, and trees in the bleak mid-winter. 

You can view these earthen works at Ann Arbor's Cafe Zola through the end of December, but you might have to lean over someone scarfing some smoked salmon bruschetta for a closer look.

It can be tricky to navigate this frequently full restaurant to get a close view of Pappas' paintings and truly appreciate their moody evocations, but she doesn't seem worried.

"Customers can figure out how to view the work amidst the coming and going of diners," said the artist, who lives in Chelsea, Michigan. "Cafe Zola is open from 7 am to 10 pm every day -- so lots of quiet times to enjoy without the high volume of lunch or dinner."

Plus, it's not the first time Pappas has shown her work at the 112 W. Washington St. restaurant.

"I have shown at Cafe Zola before and find the environment suits my paintings," she said. "I always enjoy seeing my work in a context, a 'home' -- where people live, or eat, or settle in for a bit of conversation. It is a casual, lively environment that supports the art it houses."

Candace Compton Pappas' paintings inside Cafe Zola

Candace Compton Pappas' paintings inside Cafe Zola. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Pappas said the Zola pieces were picked from recently completed creations or series "that I wanted to put on display locally. The paintings are large and fresh for me, so it is fun and satisfying to hang them all together in a big space, step back, and see how they all work together."

The paintings at Cafe Zola (as well as concrete sculptures shown on Pappas's website) revel in browns, tans, grays, muted yellows, and burnt oranges, which are complemented by the restaurant's classic red-brick walls. The colors look like they're yanked directly from the earth -- and in some cases, there are -- just as pigments were culled in past.

"A few years ago I started working with earthly elements creating sculptural forms," Pappas said. "These same materials started to find their way into the paintings: cement, dirt, swamp mud. The painting Adrift VI has a thick layer of 'spore dust' from an aged, large puffball mushroom found in our woods. It was a beautiful color -- although many of these elements become muted as they are mixed with mediums, I love all their nuance of tone and color. I make my own walnut ink and can't help but smear it on almost every painting these days. I find the surface of my paintings become their own landscapes through these materials, and images work their way in, respectful of this landscape."

Candace Compton Pappas and her Adrift as Dusk painting

Adrift at Dusk, acrylic and oils on canvas, 53" x 72" by Candace Compton Pappas (shown at right)

Pappas' website lists many of her paintings and sculptures thematically -- boats and journeys; forms and surface; house and home; birds -- and her Cafe Zola exhibition is heavy on canoe and rowboat imagery, but for the most part, these series have come about naturally, with no conscious commercial couplings behind their creation.

"Such a breakdown is really meant as a convenience for the site viewer. Not sure if this works or not, as it seems a bit contrived to me," she said. "Subjects have traveled with me through the years of work, often to my surprise. I thought the chair, for instance, was a new subject and then 20 years ago I discovered a series I had done in college. Everything comes down to my insatiable interest in the self as it 'sits' in the world, and the world as it occupies myself. I love to take both subject/image and materials, transform them, play with them."

Pappas spent part of her life in California, growing up in the Bay Area and later moving to Los Angeles, where she was part of the feminist arts center The Women’s Building. But her landscape changed with a move to the Midwest, as did her art.

"I moved from the Bay Area to Chelsea, Michigan, with a young family," she said. "A job opportunity came up for my husband, and I was up for the adventure and challenge of leaving California. I wanted to live more rurally and pursue my artwork in a less financially challenging place. 

"The move was dramatic for me, so yes, it affected me and my work deeply. I don't know if it affected me any more than raising children, or just being the sort of person that is affected deeply by anything -- for better or worse -- but certainly it brought up elements of home, belonging."

Cafe Zola is the temporary home for Pappas' paintings, which pair well with the penne in slow-cooked chianti sauce -- no matter if the pasta is your own or that of a patron who's enjoying a plate as you gaze at a cowhide-colored painted pond rippling in the twilight just over her shoulder.

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

Candace Compton Pappas' exhibition at Cafe Zola, 112 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor, runs through the end of December. The restaurant is open 7 am to 10 pm every day.