Since the word “lockdown” was introduced into our vernacular, it’s become clear the hunger to dine out is about more than just food. The staff, service, architecture and decor all create an immersive dining experience that can inspire and connect. “People have an emotional response when they see art that moves them,” says Clay Nutting, co-owner of East Sacramento’s Canon. “I think that art, particularly for restaurants, can really bring everything together to create a vibe.”
Wanting something memorable for his latest venture Franquette, a French-inspired wine bar and cafe scheduled to open in January in West Sacramento’s Bridge District, he reached out to artist, animator and former Sacramentan Jay Howell, best known for his work on the show “Bob’s Burgers.”
“Jay’s artwork is just wild. He’s kind of a legend in the DIY skateboarding community and punk scene,” says Nutting. He adds, “It’s super inspiring to see someone come up from self-published zines and outsider art and achieve the type of notoriety that Jay has.”
Howell grew up in Pleasanton and lived in Sacramento in his mid-20s during the early aughts before moving to San Francisco to pursue art professionally. He was focusing on skate and snowboard graphics and doing art shows when a meeting with “Bob’s Burgers” executive producer Loren Bouchard led to him becoming the original character designer for the show. Following its launch, he and his partner Jim Dirschberger created Nickelodeon’s “Sanjay and Craig.”
More animation work followed, and Howell has since relocated to Los Angeles, where he says he’s enjoying working in television and cartooning “more than most things.” But he has a hard time seeing himself as a legend. “I’m not even that good of an artist,” he laughs. “I’m just good at what I do. To know that anyone is inspired by my work is humbling.”
“I’m very attracted to bright, sort of shocking colors. … I like my eyes to be burned by bright color.”
Jay Howell, artist/animator
Much of Howell’s work is character-driven with a vibrant palette. “I’m very attracted to bright, sort of shocking colors,” he says, listing comic books, 1960s-1970s pop art, children’s book illustrations and the comic strip character Garfield as some of his biggest influences. “I try to use neon spray paints and make it come off the walls super hard. I like my eyes to be burned by bright color.”
Patrons walking to the restrooms at Franquette will move past the more muted, earthy tones and natural materials in the dining room through a back hallway lined with dynamic human figures dressed in shades of fluorescent orange, green, blue and purple, drawn in Howell’s signature style. Their expressions range from easygoing to anxious, almost like they’re other diners waiting in line with you.
“It’s basically everything that I had hoped for,” said Nutting. “You walk through the restaurant, which is very understated, and you’re just like — bang! There’s Jay Howell’s artwork immersing you. I think a lot of people across NorCal that have been inspired by him or admire his style will be really excited to come visit his art in our restaurant.”
“You walk through the restaurant, which is very understated, and you’re just like — bang! There’s Jay Howell’s artwork immersing you.”
Clay Nutting, co-owner, Franquette
West Sacramento is growing, and Nutting is excited to be a part of the burgeoning scene. Bringing forward art and music is important to him no matter what project he’s working on. “It’s just a part of what inspires me. Whether it’s Jay or any of the other artists we showcase at Canon, it’s about bringing things together. It’s one thing to have a restaurant, it’s another thing to use that space as an opportunity (to) showcase artists that inspire you and may inspire others.”
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