Nov. 7 2012 02:12 PM

Urban pop art decorates Downtown Asian eatery

A rendering of Marc Sandoval’s mural inside Gang Kitchen

Seven years ago, Marc Sandoval interviewed for a bartending job at Basic in East Village, and he left feeling pretty sure that he wouldn't get a call back. Seeing the other applicants in "club gear" gave the Carlsbad native the impression that he wouldn't fit in, so he brushed the whole experience off until the phone rang, with a job offer on the other end.

It turns out that he couldn't have landed at a better place. For one, when he graduated in 2008 with a degree in graphic design, job prospects were dismal, so he already had a gig. And, working at Basic allowed him to connect with other artists, many of whom are still his coworkers.

"There's definitely a creative vibe at Basic because of the people who work there…. You know you're not at the Marriott lounge," he says.

Restaurateur Jon Mangini supports the local art community in more ways than just hiring its quirky characters. Every Tuesday night, there's an art party at Basic produced by Thumbprint Gallery, and once a month, Sandoval coordinates a group show with his fellow employees.

Later this month, when Mangini opens Gang Kitchen, an Asian-themed eatery in Downtown, two large-scale paintings by Sandoval will adorn the walls in the tri-level, polished industrial space that architect Graham Downes is finishing up.

For one of the pieces, Sandoval will paint the eyes of the Buddha on some doors that Mangini salvaged from a building demolition behind Basic. They hang up high on a wall, side-by-side with a pillar in between. For the design, Sandoval is working off a photo that Mangini took in Cambodia during a summer research trip for the place that he's always wanted to open.

Sandoval's style blends pop and street art, and he's most known for his 1970s Hollywood glam portraits of pouty-lipped actresses and models. These influences will come through in the 10-by-15-foot mural in the restaurant's lounge; its background is designed to be gritty and urban, the way Mangini likes it, Sandoval says, with a high-contrast portrait of a woman wearing a rice-paddy hat in the foreground.

It's been a busy year for Sandoval. In March, he opened Molotov Gallery in East Village, and a month later, he lost his father to liver cancer. He closed up shop to regroup and opened again in July.

"My dad never pushed art on me, but he knew I wasn't going to be a quarterback," Sandoval laughs. "I always had huge support from parents, which is why I followed my dream."

Now back in the swing of things, Sandoval has had a couple shows at The Lion's Share restaurant and is hosting monthly group and solo shows at Molotov with other emerging artists.

"For beginning artists, there's not a whole lot of places to show in town," he says. "I want my gallery to be a hub, where people can come and hang their art for a month, and be a part of a close network of artists at a place where things are constantly changing."

Amy blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter @saysgranite.


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