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Breakfast as an art form

I owe David Becker, a Columbia County artist and a friend, a debt of gratitude. David gave me something far more important than a hot stock tip or the name of a physical therapist that works wonders. He introduced me to a dependable diner.

The name of the place is Bob’s. It’s on Fairview Avenue in Hudson, NY. I’d passed it many times and, frankly, found its appearance slightly off-putting. But once David, a sophisticated gentleman who is familiar with fine dining from Soho to the Napa Valley, gave Bob’s his blessing I decided to give it a try.

I wasn’t disappointed. Bob’s checked all the boxes. The booths were abundant and commodious. The counter scene, if counter dining is your thing, was lively and the conversation spirited. The food was dependable and arrived quickly. And the staff couldn’t have been more attentive.

David showered kudos on Flo, his favorite waitress. “Does she call everyone sweetheart and honey?” I asked after a recent visit, wanting to make sure we were talking about the same server. “They all do,” David explained knowingly.

The members of the Friday morning breakfast group. From left to right: Hugh Biber, Frank Tartaglione, Jim Denney, Bruce Edelstein, Stephen Whisler, Chris Freeman, Anthony Slayter-Ralph (aka A. J. Hopkins), David Becker, George Lawson, and Christopher Griffith.
Michaela Masten
The members of the Friday morning breakfast group. From left to right: Hugh Biber, Frank Tartaglione, Jim Denney, Bruce Edelstein, Stephen Whisler, Chris Freeman, Anthony Slayter-Ralph (aka A. J. Hopkins), David Becker, George Lawson, and Christopher Griffith.

Our conversation, by the way, didn’t take place over soft scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, home fries, buttered white toast and both coffee and orange juice – my typical diner breakfast order – but over the din last weekend at the opening reception for “Breakfast: An exhibition Celebrating Caffeine, Carbs and Camaraderie” at Private Public, a Hudson art gallery.

Before you get all excited and rush over there I must warn you that the “breakfast” in the show’s title doesn’t refer to the theme – I didn’t spot a single sunny side egg’s likeness on any of the canvasses – but to the meal the show’s ten artists share every Friday morning. I’m also slightly flummoxed to report that their conclave doesn’t happen at Bob’s but at Le Perche, a more upscale French restaurant and bakery on Warren Street.

“They like us,” David explained. “They bring us extra bread.”

George Lawson, another artist in the show, agreed. ““Lately they’ve been comping us like crazy,” he said. “I’ve put on ten pounds since the group started.”

I was curious what David ordered? Based on his Bob’s guidance I couldn’t help but respect his culinary judgment. “I recommend the French toast,” he told me. “It’s the best, frankly, French toast around.”

I asked him whether he gets meat on the side? French toast can be great. Waffles, too. And pancakes. But meat bumps it up to the next level. “I get bacon,” he reported. He went on the reveal a potential source of friction with his fellow artists. It had nothing to do with debates over modernism versus contemporary art, though I suspect I know where all of us would side.

Rather it was about food choices. “There’s the guilty breakfast – the avocado on toast,” David explained derisively, declining to name names. “Then they eat my bacon.”

The group meets for about two hours, starting at 9 a.m. All of them are working artists. However, art is rarely discussed. Their bonhomie derives from the recognition that all of them are a certain age, agree on the enduing importance of doing good work, and have somehow found their way, some more recently than others, to this charmed and artistically energizing corner of the planet.

“It’s hard for men to make friends,” George Lawson said. He’s not only one of the show’s artists, and its curator, but a former San Francisco gallerist who closed shop and moved to the Hudson Valley to pursue painting during the pandemic. “But it turns out,” he added, “they’re not only all creatives but they are really very good artists.”

“It’s part of a wider phenomenon here,” he went on. “Up every gully and every glade there’s some artist at the top of their game. And yet not one person in the show has a commercial gallery, even though many of them have resumes going back to the 70’s.”

The show, which is open Saturdays and Sundays through April 6th, from noon to five p.m. or by appointment, hums with creative energy. None of the art will leave you feeling inadequate because you aren’t in on the joke or fail to find yourself unsettled by its politics – the seeming propose of many a contemporary biennial.

The painting and sculpture are accessible, refined and, dare I say it, more than occasionally beautiful. There’s also an affinity to the work that I suspect courses through their breakfast conversation even if they steal off each other’s side plates.

While affirmation is important at any age these artists are working primarily for themselves. The work is as important as its reception. “They get in a social situation and they don’t go into overdrive thinking about their careers,” Lawson said. “It’s probably the only show in America right now with ten old white guys.”

They also like to drink. The opening culminated in a tailgate party in a nearby parking lot where Negronis were served. Was it any coincidence that the vibrant red color of the drinks perfectly matched the “Breakfast” title on the invitation to the show?

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found be found on Substack.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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