Life Cafe Blog

Posts Tagged ‘artlife’


 June 24, 2012

Nine months ago I had to close the original East Village Life Café. Today I am very sorry and sad to finally announce that I have to throw in my tea towel and close my second venue, Life Café 983 in Bushwick on June 30. A new café/bar will open immediately thereafter under a new name. I shall take a break from the restaurant business for the time being.

 I know it’s hard to believe. After 30 years, in September 2011 I had to close my East Village café because I could no longer carry the huge business losses caused by the two warring landlords who fought over structural repairs to their property.

And a few months later the landlord of my thriving Bushwick café told me that he was not going to extend my lease.

That was the same landlord who in 2001 invited me to open a cafe in the building he just bought on Flushing Avenue. At the time, Bushwick looked like a post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland, with nowhere for existing and incoming artists and loft dwellers to eat or drink. He told me the incoming residents desperately needed a watering hole. He said having a café close to his buildings would attract the kind of tenants he wanted. It was the East Village story all over again and I saw it. Except profit wasn’t my motive. Rather, it was another chance to do what I seem to be naturally compelled to do: create a sense of home and connect the neighborhood folks together, offer a safe haven with comforting food and good drink at reasonable prices.

I’m very glad to say that in the end it worked. Yes, it was risky and definitely a struggle the first several years. But eventually Life became a second home for locals and newcomers alike and became the heart of the community much as the East Village Life Café had done in the early 80s. I have met many fine folk throughout the years and have watched as their lives unfolded along with the Café’s. And it was good.

I’ve finally come to terms with the events of the last year. My husband John and I have gotten over our disbelief, anger and sadness at losing both places in one year. We see it now as the Universe giving us a less than gentle nudge into semi-retirement. We’re looking forward to some “Adventures Before Dementia.”

About the new operation, I understand the new owners will make every effort to carry on the spirit of Life. They said, why change something that obviously works, that people like and want. They said they’d make some upgrades that are due and there will be new additions to the menu. And they recognize it’s important not to tamper with the special ambience of Life. In that sense, their intention is for Life Café to live on in spirit, if not in name.

All things come to an end in Life. I leave having created something unique, a bohemian legacy. John and I are now in our sixties and ready for a little R and R, to have a little more time doing the other things we’ve wanted to do.

My experiences during the last 30 years of Life are cause for celebration in the closing of both cafes. Running and owning my cafes has been more than a job. It’s been like having an extended family of staff, patrons and friends. We have made legions of them over the years. Life Café has always been about the relationship between the staff and patrons. A café is more than a place to eat and drink. It’s where special relationships are fostered and melded through conversation, laughter and camaraderie. That’s what a good café is. It’s far more than food and drink. It’s about human connection.

I would like to thank the hundreds of staff members for helping me give something great and unique to the city of New York and the hamlet of Bushwick. But the roll call is too long and no name is greater or lesser than another, for each and every one has played their unique part. But, let me tell you, the guys in the kitchen are the heart and bones of the Café. Any staff member will concur. Hector, who has run the Bushwick kitchen since before it opened and who worked for me at the East Village Café as well for years before, has been particularly exceptional. He has been the kitchen’s foundation. He never missed a beat and has been ever reliable and always amiable. On his strong back Life 983 found its feet and prospered. He and his staff have been the inspiration of the Café. There are more memories than can be mentioned here and many relationships built over time. I will miss you all and will never forget you. Life Café has always had a lot of love about it, and that I shall always have with me.

Please stop by in the next week to check out John’s Life Café Menu Picture Riddle art installation. It is the final one. We have a catalogue on premises and he’s offering the limited edition of originals at very special reduced prices. There will not be any more produced. He would like to leave as many pieces he possibly can with our friends in the Life community.

A last thought before I go; I didn’t make time for a family of my own. Instead, I made time for you. Thank you all for being a part of my family and thank you for allowing me to be a part of yours.

Much peace and love,

Kathy Life

Life Cafe 983 featured artist in April is Lindsay Hutchinson


Featured Artist Lindsay Hutchinson

Lindsay Hutchinson

Featured Artist of the Month, April 2012

A review by John Sunderland

Exhibition Title:  ‘101 Hipsters’

Lindsay Hutchinson comes over as a quietly modest young woman from what I could tell during the hour or so we spent early this morning as she and her helper faced the monumental task of installing an exhibit of 101 paintings (or so I thought) in the hour prior to opening the café.  In fact there were, 42 or is it 43. No matter; numbers and volume do not really count in this wonderful exhibition.

In essence it appears simple. Some forty small rectangular flat-colored portraits, head and shoulders only, delineated by sinuous black expressive line.  I watched as each came out of the cardboard box and was held up to the wall for positioning. With every new piece it was like being introduced to someone new, and in a way someone you knew, as so many of the faces seemed familiar.

Lindsay’s multiple stylized figurative portraits are taken from her world of Bushwick Hipsterdom; friends and people she knows from the garden and the store, people from her building and the street. The twenty-something, thirty-something burghers of Morganville are here represented, the class of 2011/2012.

Working from observation and photographs Lindsay renders each in a similar process that looks deceptively simple, using line to delineate and provide form and expression and color, often totally unnatural as expressive decoration. Without resorting to caricature, with a sure eye and hand, she manages each time to capture a real sense of the individual.

Labels for groups of people tend to assist in the mental grouping of them all together as a genre. And here to an extent that happens, Hipsters, but only if your eyes aren’t quite open when all the kaleidoscope colors appear like a jar of jelly-beans.  Open more widely and focus and you will find succinct and character-full portrayals you feel you know —  and maybe you do.

You become captivated by the charm of each and the contact with every single person. But then grouped together as they are in blocks of twelve, you really do gain a sense of the quilted community of colorful young souls that make up a large part of the unique Bushwick community.

Deliberately mounted in irregular style, see how the subjects move about and jostle as though in a village of personalities with messages to keep or share.

It is a really wonderful show. We at Life Café hope you enjoy it. Who knows; you might see yourself up there!

Lindsey Hutchinson, originally from Indiana, is a local artist living and working in Bushwick. She says of this exhibition: “I am a Hipster. You are a Hipster. That dude over there is a Hipster.” Never was a truer word said.

This Month’s Artist @ Life Cafe 983

Leslie Van Stelten Biography

Originally hailing from Denver,Colorado, Leslie Van Stelten is one of those transplants to the Big Apple who has rooted herself into the cracked pavements and graffiti-covered buildings of Brooklyn like a glorious weed that can’t help but grow and flourish in such a steely environment.

She’s a photographer and photo illustrator of exceptional talents whose work appears regularly on CD packages for bands and musicians, in local publications such as The Village Voice and Go Magazine, and prestigious design and publicity projects.  But her heart and soul explode into action when capturing the denizens of the NYC underground scene like no one else – from the unique subjects to the stunning lighting to the exaggerated reality she portrays, Leslie’s work evokes a visceral feeling in the viewer that’s hard to shake and impossible to forget.

She has exhibited her striking work in galleries all over New York Cityand is pleased to be presenting at Sugarland.  For a look at more of Leslie’s work, please go to

Julia Sinelnikova at Life Cafe 983


Julia Sinelnikova

Life Café Bushwick, Artist of the Month

December 2011

John Sunderland

I have been fortunate in my life to live in some beautiful places, and then I came to Bushwick; which to my mind has to be one of the ugliest places on the planet, why else would the artists of the street try to paint it out?

And here this month we have someone who sees beauty where, in daylight at least I see only the beast.


I have been in two minds about Julia’s show.  To be honest I think the exhibition on the right hand side of the wall, is truly worthy of comment, but not so the three large paintings on the left, which don’t appear to belong in the company of the rest.


Sunsets and reflected light from natural and unnatural sources transform Bushwick from dusk to dawn; then it becomes a place of mystery, Chirico shadows and possible threat. But high on the rooftops above the streets the greatest show on earth is still playing.

Rather than go for the obvious iconic view of Manhattan set against a flame red sky, Julia looks closer and sees beauty in the momentary passing of light above the shadow blocks of Bushwick, and reminds us that nature gives us a fresh start every morning and wipes the slate clean every night.


It’s not easy to capture fleeting moments, and equally it takes a special skill to capture fleeting moods as the artist does so well with her interiors, where she shows us glimpses of transitory loft-life. We may want to know more but we never shall.


The one piece that really does it for me in this show is, “On the Brink”. This is a painting you could live with, it would always draw you to it; there would always be questions, never a dull moment. It could be a canvas that in the end could drive you mad.

Julia has captured here two people standing together, their naked feet in the moving water. That’s all we know, apart from the delicious fact that this is a moment set to pass and unfold. Quite how- we shall have to wait and see. Time for another glass!


Rachel Echanique @ Life Cafe 983

Exhibition Review
Raquel Echanique
Life Café Bushwick
8th – 20th November 2011

The View from the Bar

Rachel Echanique

By John Sunderland

I always think first impressions count. The first impression I had when seeing this exhibit was; there are five screaming women in the bar that weren’t here yesterday!

It ‘s a bit of a shock actually, like having all your ex-wives show up at brunch and start up on you again!
However relax, once seated at the bar and looking back, you see that the your personal connection has nothing to do with it, these females are not screaming- they are exploding, exploding with energy which is unraveling before your eyes.

The focus of each painting is the mouth. The mouths of the subjects are wide-open and crazy with joy, ecstasy or fear, or all three; it’s up to the viewer. Secondary impressions come, the image of the girl in the strobe-lit disco, a still frame from a riot scene in a magazine; the moment your wife gave birth.
Those images fade along with a catalogue of others; then your brain says, hang on these aren’t faces, they are moments when whiplashes of paint, the flashes of blades of color and line, the un-coiling of springs, conspired momentarily to form faces of women unknown.

Raquel Echanique is the latest artist from the HART950 Gallery; my last review of was about drawing; Echanique is a painter, with a sure-hand mastery over what she wants the brush to do; it is she who blows up on the canvas in these works, and the results are sheer energy in the form of controlled explosions. And after you have taken them in, you realize that the motion has not stopped, the explosion continues to expand.
Somewhere in the artist’s mind the moments before each frozen frame exist, and somewhere beyond, her whiplash brushes conjure up other
moments of joy, ecstasy or fear, as they coil and thrash on into the future.

Nick Greenwald-Augustnots

Nick Greenwald. AUGUSTNOTS.

A Review


By John Sunderland


A pencil is a tool for the brain and drawing is a process of synthesis, a personally based balance of mapping and reactive emotion.  In Nick Greenwald’s hands, drawing instruments become tools of discovery. What we get to share are the graphic results of his searching.


Although the works on the Café wall this week are multi-media in execution – photo prints over-laid by marks, tears, burns, paint, collage, scratched and scorched – they’re all drawings.


For subject matter, if you want to call a person’s attention, use the human face as your muse. Here Nick uses faces like maps that he is both trying to read and explore at the same time. We are sensitive to our faces and read the faces of others all the time, so it’s fascinating when an artist explores the surface, even if, as in these images, the subjects are pretty much devoid of expression. But Nick’s not making portraits; I don’t see him attempting to go deeper into the mind of the subject at all. Rather, the works are about surface and effects and what he can do with them.


What’s to enjoy in this exhibition is a sense of the artist’s undiluted love of drawing. I bet he draws in his sleep, and during the day hangs out in art stores drooling over pencils, pens and markers.  It’s on that level, the enjoyment of drawing as discovery that we share in his journey.


And thank goodness someone is still drawing; all art begins with drawing. This age has largely turned its back on drawing as the most essential medium of expression and communication.  Today we have come to rely more and more on digitized tools to process the making of marks and thereby interrupt the natural human synthesis; from brain, through mind, to hand, to eye, to brain and mind of another.


Nick Greenwald-AUGUSTNOTS

There is nothing digitized here. Here is a man in love with making marks of his own, turning over the leaves of the jungle with his pencil. And, if he doesn’t give up on the search, he’s well on his way to becoming a maestro of his medium.


Come and enjoy another dish of brain-food and another terrific exhibit from the stable of emergent talent that is Hart Gallery 950.


From October 26 – November 3, 2011, at Life Café 983, Bushwick, Brooklyn


Art Life-Matt Brennan

Art Life


Matt Brennan

October 16 through October 23, 2011



Review by John Sunderland


Matt Brennan’s 9 illustrated pieces, artist #2 in the Gallery950 line-up for October and November at Life Café 983, Bushwick.



My first impression of Matt Brennan’s exhibit was, “Look! Some chap is skate boarding up our wall!”  That’s what you see first, skateboards minus wheels. And if that’s all you see, this show could be a yawn and something you might not investigate further. That would be a shame because Matt’s unique pieces are gems, the product of a fervent concentrated obsessive energy and inward seeking intelligence; well worth giving time to.

Apart from two of the six pieces, “Ghost” and “Lightning bolt,” which are somehow left of stage, the other seven pieces, all hung vertically, require close attention, very close attention.



Four of the pieces are on white board and the artwork is linear and incredibly detailed. Each of these has a theme and a suggestive title: “Cog,” “Navigator,” “Old One,” and my personal favorite title, “Astrosludge.” To arrive at the connection with the title, if there is one, is like looking at a tangle of fine string and wondering if it really makes a knot.



The other pieces, executed on boards minus skate wheels are in color and display the same intensity. But these designs are broader with figurative elements as though the boards have been tattooed by an expert accomplished at placing the design exactly where he wants it.


I am not going to attempt to explain the meaning of each piece with titles like “Grigleysmith” and “Possessed Lion.” The interpretation is up to the observer (and I reckon over a couple of beers, you’ll have several).



All in all, do take the time, peer over the heads of the diners this weekend and have a closer look. You will be greatly rewarded for your effort.


Chalk Talk – Menu Picture Riddle

I thought this was as surreal as you can get, an Abacus with eggs?

Easy does it with the sums!


An exhibition of 12 of the best Life Cafe Menu Picture Riddles from the past year by John Sunderland, Artist and Mental Tease, who promises:
“All will be stripped away to reveal the answers and the ideas behind the images.”

July 1 through July 31, 2010

Life Cafe 983, Bushwick Brooklyn

Opening Party Tuesday, July 6,  7 pm -10pm

(*all original works and prints to order for sale)

Life Cafe East Village – Riddle Raffle June 21

riddle raffle