BY NICOLE JAVORSKY | With her choice of alcohol in hand, Hannah Malyn sat down with her partner at a table where wine glasses and beer bottles — placed alongside paintbrushes and canvasses — could function equally well as still life and conversation starter. That unlikely pairing is what drives people like Malyn to Unarthodox — a new studio in Chelsea that, along with a handful of other bars and unconventional spaces, mixes art and alcohol for a new way to socialize in New York City.
“People get stuck in their pattern of social drinking, and it’s great to do something creative,” said Malyn.
Alvaro Montagna recently opened Unarthodox, where instructors teach art classes in a space whose mood lighting and modern furniture helps put newbie painters at ease. The casual setting came about when Montagna asked fellow artists to submit ideas for classes with a creative twist. Those with the best ideas were hired as instructors. While art supplies are included, participants are strongly encouraged to bring wine or beer along with them. “Except,” added Montagna with a laugh, “for the children’s classes, of course!”
“I don’t think it is the act of drinking that gives them creativity. It’s the fact that they have the ability to do so that gives them a relaxed feeling and, in turn, opens up their creative juices, if you will,” he said.
ART IS THERAPEUTIC
Tavia Sanza, an instructor for the “Bottled Art” painting class at Unarthodox, explained that making art has a cathartic power for herself and others. To Sanza, art is grounding and provides an outlet for her “nervous energy,” as she put it. “Everything else around me could be going crazy, but I can go into my own little world and make something. It’s impossible to feel bad about yourself or life in general when you’re making something beautiful.”
At another painting class, held by Painting Circle at Bar Nine in Hell’s Kitchen, several participants mentioned a similar reason for attending the art class.
Ankit Sharma, a poet and writer, said, “I’ve always wanted to paint. It’s a great way to relieve stress.”
As Sanza walked around the table, she jokingly teased a participant, “You’re a perfectionist, aren’t you?”
According to Sanza, many participants come into the class claiming incompetence in art. “I’ve learned to be the world’s greatest cheerleader,” she said, “because the reality is that I get so many people who come in here and tell me what they can’t do. We all have the potential, but if someone is making things look really easy, it’s probably not because they’re born with it, but because they’ve worked at it really hard.”
Irina Fialko, a Painting Circle instructor, echoed a similar sentiment about the trepidation participants have when they first begin the class — though, Fialko also added that students usually believe in themselves more by the end of the class.
“Some feel like they can’t do it at all. But, by the end, they’re smiling and happy, and tipsy. People who thought they absolutely can’t do it end up with great paintings they can take home.”
George Nolan attended a class at Painting Lounge’s Chelsea location for the celebration of his friend’s birthday. In his words, “We wanted to do something fun — definitely something that involved alcohol!”
At Painting Lounge, participants can bring their own drinks to class or buy some from a limited selection.
Nolan wasn’t the only one at Painting Lounge celebrating an occasion with liquor and painting. Lyndee McCallum came with her fiancé, mother, and future mother-in-law for a belated Mother’s Day treat. She was excited to have an activity where she could get to know her fiancé’s mother, while sipping her favorite drink: Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio.
One of the instructors at Painting Lounge, Charles Sommer, told the class, “Some people get a little drunk and dip their paintbrush in the wine. It’s non-toxic paint so don’t worry!” Then, he added, “I wouldn’t suggest it, though.”
The instructors embraced the messiness that often accompanies art-making in order to perpetuate a welcoming atmosphere for participants. Fialko said, “If a student messes up a canvas, it’s just a happy accident. I want to make it fun for everyone involved.”
At Unarthodox, participants are encouraged to use whatever colors they’d like, and to make their paintings special — their own.
“There’s a lot of ‘bottled art classes’ out there,” noted Sanza, “so I think some people have a preconceived idea of what it is. I think Unarthodox is special, because the people who are behind this are sincere.”
Some of the other bottled art classes, she asserted, “are more commercialized, and this is definitely a labor of love. What we do here is take things a little bit outside the box. If people want to paint it in a different color, I don’t care. I want you to have a good time — to be creative.”
As she walked around the table again, Sanza reminded the students, “I don’t mind mistakes. Everyone is their own special rainbow.”
The class schedule for Unarthodox (547 W. 27th St., Suite 300, btw. 10th & 11th Aves.) can be found at unarthodox.com or by calling 646-964-4733. The class schedule for Painting Lounge (Manhattan studios on W. 38th & W. 14th Sts., plus a Union Ave., Williamsburg location) can be found at paintinglounge.com or by calling 212-518-1803. Sign up for Painting Circle events (including at Bar Nine, 807 Ninth Ave., btw. W. 53rd & W. 54th Sts.) at paintingcircle.com.