Princeton arts focus: Ficus Bon Vivant restaurant highlights work of local artists and students through exhibitions

The opening reception for the Off the Beaten Path exhibition at Ficus Bon Vivant. Photo: Thomas Kelly.

Ficus Bon Vivant is a newer restaurant in downtown Princeton that offers both a ground-level cafe and fine dining on the second floor. One of the standout differences of Ficus is the immersion into the art world. The restaurant offers fine art for viewing enjoyment and for sale.

This mixing in of the art world is in development that has been well-received. Currently in the final month of its second three-month exhibition featuring three area artists in the show “Off the Beaten Path,” the artwork element is proving to be popular with diners. The plan for the future is to have a new exhibition every season.

Ficus owner Quinta Li, who opened the eatery at 235 Nassau Street in 2020 during the pandemic, wanted to showcase art along with the international fusion menu. Curating the gallery portion is Kyle Johnson Wille, an artist herself who is very well versed in regional artists from her time as an artist outreach coordinator with the Hopewell Valley Arts Council.

Wille says the meals are a work of art at Ficus, and the goal was to bring the same visual experience to the dining rooms at the restaurant. “There is passion in the preparing of the food,” she said. “We wish to show passion for regional art as well. We feel it is an important aspect.”

So far patrons are responding. The two openings have been well attended and artwork is being collected. This is an enthusiastic start for both the venue and the artists. “It’s different here,” said Wille. “We have a longer than normal show at three months in length. We wish for the patrons to know the artists intimately. We have QR codes on the tables where customers can connect to the artists’ websites and really get to know them. We have a terrific videographer, Ryan Tian, who films the openings along with short videos showcasing the artists. For this show, we ventured off-site to the artists’ actual studios for a more in-depth discussion of their art, how it is inspired, and the process of making it.”

The current exhibition runs through February 27. The show features painter Janet Purcell, mixed media artist Joy Kreves, and plein air painter Lori Langsner.

Purcell paints still lifes, florals, coastal scenes, and other images from her own observations in oil and pastel. Purcell’s paintings have a familiar comfortable East Coast feel with bright colors. She is also a well-known area arts writer and novelist. Her paintings are inevitably colorful and narrative.

Painting by Janet Purcell.

Kreves is a mixed media artist whose works explore the connections between language, psychology, and landscape. Kreves is showing some of her Geode series on a huge space in the center of the main room at Ficus. The Geodes bring both shape and color and look as if they were placed in the room by a designer.

Geodes. Artist Jody Kreves.

Langsner paints in oil. Her outdoor landscapes are tranquil and inviting. A welcoming retreat as we muddle through the winter. Her work speaks of spring and summer in natural tones and gentle breezes. Langsner’s works, besides being hung in the main dining room, are enjoyed in a few of the smaller nook dining areas in Ficus, which work almost like windows in these intimate spaces.

Painting by Lori Langsner.

“The enthusiasm for the new restaurant and the art is very encouraging,” Wille said. “People wish to be out again, and this venue offers a lot.”

Purcell said she loves the space at Ficus, including the side rooms with their privacy. When asked if Princeton will support and purchase art in a somewhat non-conventional space, Purcell said she hopes so. “Ficus has all the elements coming together that will make it successful, great distinctive meals, a beautiful setting, and terrific art,” she said. “It should draw people by word of mouth. I see it being a big success.”

Ficus Bon Vivant lists all the exhibited art on the restaurant’s website with sizes and pricing to assist collectors and promote the artists’ work.

The restaurant also showcases student art in the ground floor café. “It is a great learning experience for fledgling artists,” Wille said. “We are currently exhibiting five artists from the Pennington School. The students get to see how putting on an exhibition works and are very happy to be exhibiting, maybe for the first time themselves.”