Restaurant News & Reviews

Sacramento cocktail-maker brings mix of styles to his (other) artwork

Ryan Seng, bartender at Grange and a longtime painter, pictured in his studio.
Ryan Seng, bartender at Grange and a longtime painter, pictured in his studio. Sita Seng

Grange’s Ryan Seng is renowned as one of Sacramento’s leading cocktailers, given his complex yet tasty libations and good humor behind the bar. But he has also made an impression on the bar scene as a painter. One of his works, “Blind Tiger,” serves as a key piece of art and interior décor at Shady Lady. The large oil painting takes its name from an old term for “speakeasy” and depicts a night of carousing, R-rated imagery and all.

Seng is now on tap for his first show in two years. “Upside-down Inside out,” a new collection of Seng’s paintings and drawings, will be on display through Nov. 19 at Trumpette (2020 I St., Sacramento). This baby boutique is perhaps an odd pairing for Seng’s art, which tends to depict a lot of birthday suits, but there’s an energy and colorfulness to Seng’s work that adds vitality to any setting. Here is what Seng had to say about his life in art and cocktails:

You’re known around Sacramento primarily behind the bar. What’s your background in fine art?

I went to high school in Ohio and moved to New York City. I went to the Pratt Institute for a year, and then went to the New York Studio School in Manhattan. It was a cool school with a non-degree program, (and) you had a lot of freedom. They had studios where you could be fully immersed in a lot of studio work. There was a lot of naked people walking around.

I met my wife in drawing class. When I finished school, I moved to Davis, where my wife is from, and I’ve been here 17 years. I was a broke art kid with a useless art certificate. I worked restaurants in New York City and always enjoyed it. The only way to make money was in restaurants. I worked at Chevy’s in Dixon for three years.

How would you describe your aesthetic as a painter?

I started really formal and academic – impressionism and realism – but it’s gotten folksier. It’s those two worlds going back and forth.

I realized that a lot of the people in my paintings are people I met while working in bars, or being at bars. The painting I have right now (featured) on Instagram is Travis (Kavanaugh) of Shady Lady and one of the regulars. Behind them are leftover model photos.

I love art and I love museums. I used to be self-conscious about being a serious artist and bartender, but now I don’t care. I’m happy to do both.

Is there a particular cocktail that you like to have while painting, maybe to keep the inspiration going?

I do all my painting in the day time, and I don’t usually drink during the day. It’s when I’m more reclusive and not as talkative as I am at night. But if it’s a weekend, I might be guilty of having a bottle of wine at the studio.

The name of your show is “Upside-down Inside-out.” What does that refer to?

It started with this feeling of having three kids, and bartending and painting. Life gets a little crazy. But that feeling of chaos is inspiring to me. I feel my best work rises above the turmoil. I like it when art triumphs.

Do you ever approach your cocktails as you would a painting, or do you keep those worlds separate?

They’re totally similar. Not to be corny, but a lot of times good drinks will come from an emotional place. Then spirits come into that, and technique comes in, and colors and mouthfeel. But yeah, all the best drinks are me trying to capture an experience that someone can carry in a cocktail. Paintings are the same way.

Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.

RYAN SENG

Bartender, Grange restaurant

Seng, known for his crafty and creative cocktails, also has a background in fine art. “Upside-down Inside-out,” an art show featuring new oil paintings and drawings by Seng, are displayed through Nov. 19 at Sacramento’s Trumpette boutique.

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