Philly artist Reverend Michael Alan speaks about his captivating mural art that audiences will experience when the Simmer Down cocktail lounge opens at The Quoin hotel
By Jim Miller
Wilmington’s new 24-room boutique hotel The Quoin may be rooted in an historic Victorian-era brownstone and cleverly harken back to vintage styles of the 20th century, but make no mistake — the establishment offers something fresh and exciting for Delaware.
Imagine Wes Anderson re-making The Great Gatsby, but set in the early ‘70s, and you’ll have the seed of an idea for what to expect before you enter. Color in the rest of the picture once you experience the inviting warmth and fine-tuned detail of 155-seat The Quoin Restaurant & Bar, where bartenders fix uber-craft cocktails paired specifically to seasonal dishes served from an open kitchen.
Ascend four floors and you’ve arrived at the city’s first rooftop bar, which offers views unique to visitors and residents alike.
And soon The Quoin will be unveiling its cocktail lounge, which is set to be an underground sensation in more than one way. One flight of stairs below street level, Simmer Down mixes mystique and cozy charm, while offering yet another shift in time and place.
Without question, a principal aspect of the room’s allure are the ornately decorated wall murals, upon which locally and internationally known references mix and mingle with more obscure elements of ancient lore — all of it looking centuries old.
Picture Indiana Jones somehow stumbling upon a Middle Eastern cave etching of a stretch limo and you get the gist. Mischievously mysterious.
Towards the end of last month, we asked Philly artist Reverend Michael Alan, an illustrator with more than a quarter century of experience creating murals, what it was like to work on these walls and the inventive thinking that took place before the brush tips touched the surface.
Here’s what he had to say:
O&A: Just walking into Simmer Down is a transportive experience. Before you started illustrating this mural, what were some of the ideas you discussed with the hotel’s designers from Method Co.?
Alan: The room has great bones. The textured walls and vaulted brick ceiling were features Daniel Olsovsky, the project’s visionary [of Method Co.], wanted to accentuate from the very beginning. Some of our initial inspiration came from cave painting, ancient cultures and catacomb art.
In addition, we also wanted to show our reverence for Wilmington and the Delaware Valley — not just by depicting landmarks on the wall, but embracing regional folk-art styles like Fraktur painting.
Considering the space would be a bar, we also wanted to make the mural conservational and frankly, fun. That’s when we started to layer on the more surreal imagery.
O&A: After a quick look, it appeared as if the Simmer Down illustrations were informed as much by local landmarks and pop culture as by classic mythology and symbolism. Is that how you see it and, if so, is there a particular Easter egg that is your favorite?
Alan: Yes, the mural is an amalgamation of all those things.
Classical and ancient art has always been inspirational to me, so it was fun to reference those styles when painting on an old wall and connect with techniques that have been used by muralists for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s also interesting to me that all ancient art was pop culture at some point, this work is a continuation of that tradition.
Of the Easter eggs I am willing to reveal, the Ecce Homo, or more commonly known on the internet as “Restoration Jesus,” is at the top of my list. It still makes me giggle to think about, and I pray someone, some day will restore my painting of the restoration into something even more hilarious.
O&A: How much does your spirituality influence your art?
Alan: Faith is extremely important to me, and religion is something I turn to not only for visual inspiration but for personal solace. While painting the mural, I was constantly convening with deceased family and my angels; streamed Mass with my mom on the weekends; and said maybe thousands of Hail Marys.
O&A: You have been hired by spirits companies to create label illustrations. And here you are creating designs for a new cocktail lounge. Is there something about the creativity of craft culture that attracts you?
Alan: There’s something about a paycheck that attracts me.
I know my way around the kitchen, and a bar, so there is a level of personal interest when brought on to a project like this. I am just flattered that people appreciate my work enough to want to use it for things that are meant to bring joy to others.
O&A: How long did it take you to complete the mural and was there any specific part of the process that was more challenging than the rest
Alan: The mural took about six weeks to complete to this point, however I don’t think it will ever be complete. I hope, as the years go on, we keep adding to it.
The most challenging part was editing down all the ideas Daniel and I were continually coming up with. As one area was painted, that would spiral into more ideas and more ideas. Everyday there was a new “we have to get that in the mural” [moment].
O&A: What is your current project and/or what’s next?
Alan: God only knows, but probably more painting.
The Quoin is located at 519 N. Market Street. Management hopes to open Simmer Down this month. For dinner or hotel reservations, call (302) 446-5600.