Walking to the cafe

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Rhonda Dredge

Cafes have become the centre of pandemic life and they shine in the eyes of their customers.

Crown Street Stables café off Racecourse Rd is one such haven for the community.

People come here to let off steam about their shutdown lives.

But it takes an artist’s eye to recognise what the café has in terms of its story.

 

Artist Parul Sen has captured the mood of what it is like to anticipate a visit in A walk to the Café, an exhibition of digital prints at Crown Street.

 

“If people had to pick and choose, they’d rather visit a café than a gallery,” Parul said. “Being a hub for so many activities.”

She has turned that sentiment into a series of limited edition giclee prints which went up at the cafe just before the last lockdown and sell, framed, for $350 each.

Parul did not start with the idea of a cafe show in mind. The seven prints just evolved out of her feeling for these places, the buildings and their friendly staff.

Two other local cafes are in the show, including Beatrix in North Melbourne and Luncheonette in Kensington, both with loyal followings and colourful histories.

Parul has to feel comfortable before doing the creative work. Aesthetics can’t be confined to categories in search engines. She puts in the leg work, takes photographs, does sketches then fills in colours on Procreate, keeping in mind that the cafes are local and personal to many people.

“These are personal stories,” she said. “I love these cafes. They’re all really old buildings.”

Unbelievably, Luncheonette with its cracked paint and original tiles, which she has transformed, was once a post office, robbed in the 1930s by thieves who got away with the safe on a wheelbarrow.

And Beatrix was originally a butcher shop in the 1890s and later it became a fish smoking business called Lord Trout, before turning into one of the most photographed cake shops in the city.

These historical stories bring the prints alive, creating mythologies across the inner west, some related to Parul’s own journey to Melbourne.

Her artistic project began at Pepper café in Flemington. That’s where she had her first exhibition. She combined the seasons in that print, giving one tree blossom and another autumn leaves.

Her Indian feel for drama comes to the fore in the blue skies and pinks from her native city of Jaipur.

In India everything is enhanced whereas local Melburnians tend to play down their charms. When she first came here, she didn’t get the place.

“In India nothing’s subtle. For many years nothing inspired me here. I stopped doing art. Then I started observing buildings, red doors, and found there was so much. It took many years.”

She was always attracted to a story. In one painting a lemon-scented gum is just about to lose its life to the widening of the Tullamarine Freeway.

Parul studied Fine Art in Jaipur and was a wedding consultant in her home city, doing set and costume design and arranging the music.

She said the biggest hurdle here was putting herself out there and being open to interpretation and criticism.

“The support I’ve received has been incredible,” she said. She was featured artist at the recent Rotary Art Show at Kensington Town Hall.

Walking to the Café, Parul Sen, Crown Street Stables Café, until December •

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