April 2017

When He’s Not Pouring You a Drink, Lindberg Is Busy Capturing the Nashville Nightlife

Hotel Delmano, Pencil and ink on archival paper, 17” x 14”

by Cat Acree

“Lindberg’s scenes feel distinctly ephemeral, as the mood and players within any bar setting are likely to change. There’s also a voyeuristic quality, as the viewer can’t help but be aware of the person who captured each moment.”

Weatherup, Pencil and ink on archival paper, 17” x 14”

There are certain bars that seem separate from the passing of time—windowless joints that block off the setting and rising of the sun—because guilt and self-awareness are lessened when you’re unaware of what hour it is. The crosshatch line illustrations by Tommy Nicholson, artist name Tommy Lindberg, capture that particular haziness of dimly lit cocktail bars where light and shadow bleed together, where time is a little flatter.

Skull’s Rainbow Room in Printers Alley is like that, and it’s where Lindberg tends bar. We’re perched at the bar counter, and his family—girlfriend, new baby, and two sons whom he has just picked up from the airport after they flew down from New York to visit—are sitting at a table just behind us. At night, there will be burlesque dancers, but for now it’s not so loud as to drown out Lindberg as he talks quickly and casually about his work. And though he began drawing with serious intent only about five or six years ago—at the same time he began to approach bartending with a bit more seriousness as well—it was in this alley that young Tommy began to draw.

“My family owned one of the buildings,” Lindberg says. “Brass Stables was Andrew Jackson’s stable house. That was my family’s building.” He describes the women who worked in the cleaner’s on the top floor, and how his hardworking grandmother was the tailor for the mayor. “My brother and I would just get lost, running around this alley, amok. We’d steal my mom’s cigarettes and go to her back fire escape, where all the strippers were out smoking cigarettes, and we’d try to drop quarters down their shirts.”

Manhattan Cricket Club, Pencil and ink on archival paper, 17” x 14”

As a shy 10-year-old, Lindberg was paid by construction companies to draw renderings of houses, which would be printed in newspapers. Beyond that, drawing was not something he pursued. Eventually, he moved to New York (he moved back seven months ago) with a dream of writing screenplays, got a film in Tribeca, and spent his time bartending, writing, and drawing coffee-shop scenes on napkins. But it wasn’t until he was working at Manhattan’s legendary Pegu Club that he began to rethink what he was passionate about. His cocktails started getting better, and so did his art.

“At the same time I was drawing, I started appreciating what I was doing back here,” Lindberg says, gesturing to the bar space across from us. “I spend all my time back here. Everything is textures, bottles, glass.”

Lindberg tied his two passions together through an illustration series of the best, most groundbreaking cocktail bars in Manhattan and Brooklyn, including Hotel Delmano, Weather Up, Maison Premiere and Manhattan Cricket Club. “It’s so intertwined,” he explains. “There’s like five key players, and then they go off and train five more, and they go off. You could look at the whole thing as if it’s a family tree that you open up and see how they’re all connected.”

Clover Club, Pencil and ink on archival paper, 17” x 14”

Lindberg’s scenes feel distinctly ephemeral, as the mood and players within any bar setting are likely to change. There’s also a voyeuristic quality, as the viewer can’t help but be aware of the person who captured each moment, similar to how we feel when spying on the diner occupants of Hopper’s Nighthawks. Lindberg is inevitably part of the scene as a viewer and likely imbiber. But the bartender is always the crux; their face often catches the most light, as in Weatherup, or they seem most likely to engage, as in Manhattan Cricket Club.

“It’s kind of weird,” Lindberg acknowledges, “I never intended the focus to be on the bartender, but they are always the centerpiece.”

It should be noted that Lindberg is no longer drawing on napkins, and he’s not spending all day in a bar to capture these scenes. (“I obviously can’t sit in a bar all night and get drunk,” he says. Although one could argue that yes, you could.) He takes photos in each bar, though he’ll swap characters from different scenes. “Half the people aren’t even in it,” he says of the final product. “It’s made up.”

Each piece, on 17-by-14 archival paper, takes about 40 hours in total, or about a month of layering lines upon lines. He begins with a preliminary sketch—which he describes as messy, “smudgy,” and “boring”—and then a pen outline, additional detail, then erasing.

Tommy Lindberg; Photograph by Anthony Scarlati

“I see through the light,” Lindberg says. “That’s the thing, that it’s all lines. And then after all the lines are done, I go through with the eraser and I create the light. I don’t even know how it’s going to happen . . . It’s just like [this bar]. I don’t know what’s going to happen every day. Every night is going to be different.”

If you would like to contact Tommy Lindberg, please send an email to info@nashvillearts.com

Pegu Club, Pencil and ink on archival paper, 17” x 14”

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