Introductory Painting Class Hangs New Work in Durham Restaurant

A Duke-Durham Collaboration

Most of Professor Beverly McIver’s Spring 2019 students had never painted seriously before—and certainly none had been commissioned to create large abstract murals for a client. This didn’t stop the chef and owner of Durham’s Cucciolo Osteria, Jimmy Kim, from asking McIver if her class would be interested in creating abstract paintings for his restaurant. The students in McIver’s introductory Art, Art History, and Visual Studies painting class ultimately crafted four 5 x 6’ paintings that now live in Cucciolo’s private dining room.

According to Kim (Trinity ’04, Fuqua ’12), Cucciolo had been searching for a way to transform the wall space in their dining room for some time. “We knew from the get go that the private dining room needed some large paintings to ‘fill up’ the room and decorate the massive, bare wall. We explored all kinds of options, from caricature to oil paintings and more. We were able to narrow down what we wanted to two main criteria. 1) We wanted paintings that would complement the room, rather than be the focus of the room, and 2) we wanted to incorporate a sense of community,” said Kim. McIver’s class seemed to be a perfect fit for the job.

“It just hit me that it could be fun to collaborate with a Duke art department to see if a class may be interested in creating paintings for the room. As a double-Dukie myself, I loved the idea that it would create a nice story behind the paintings that would actually mean something to us.”—Jimmy Kim, chef and owner of Cucciolo Osteria

Professor McIver liked the idea. “All of my students agreed to participate and to work collaboratively to create four 5’x6’ paintings. The students were placed in small groups of three and worked on the paintings together. Naturally, there was some tension when paint that one student applied was erased by another student. The students had to be reminded that this was not personal, but instead followed guidelines of what Jimmy wanted for his restaurant,” said McIver.

“My students had never painted and were completely unfamiliar with how to create abstract paintings. This project has brought my students closer together, and even though only one of my students is an art major, my students learned and experienced what professional artists do daily. I believe this created a new appreciation and respect for the professional artist.”—Beverly McIver, Professor of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies

The painting process was collaborative in nature. “We invited Jimmy over to the studio to share the paintings with him because we wanted to see if we captured what he had envisioned. He loved them and was excited about hanging them in the private dining room of Cucciolo. The entire project was a lot of work and was very time consuming…we learned that Jimmy wanted nothing traditional or ‘classic Italian.’ Instead, we found that he was attracted to simplicity and a fairly muted palette. He pointed at a drawing table in the studio that was covered with years of student’s marks, both in graphite, gray and white paint. We shared images of artist Cy Twombly used them for inspiration to create these works.”

Kim invited McIver and her class for a fine Italian meal at Cucciolo to celebrate their work. Kim plans on creating a plaque that will include a statement of how these works came about and a list of all the students who participated.

“I just couldn’t help but smile as I looked at the paintings right after we finished hanging them. It is the perfect fit for the room and we just can’t wait to show to our guests in the near future.” —Jimmy Kim