At Greenpoint’s Diamond Lil, a classically composed reclining figure presides above the marble bar. Spotlit and cast into relief by shelves of whiskey, rum and liqueurs, the oil painting is the centerpiece of the art nouveau space—but the subject has no interest in your attention.
Titled “Got No Time To Be Your Muse,” the large-scale mural acts as a 21st-century rebuttal to the 19th-century trope of the backbar nude, like that of Miss Keens, the portrait that has long adorned the walls at New York’s iconic Keens Steakhouse. But where the original tableau, with its passive acceptance of the male gaze, evokes an era well before the time of #MeToo, the woman contentedly reading her book, flashing a knowing peace sign to the viewer at Diamond Lil, actively dismisses it.
“The peace sign is kind of a brush off to the viewer,” explains artist Jenna Gribbon who was commissioned by Diamond Lil co-owner Tim Murray (a friend) to provide the centerpiece for the Brooklyn neighborhood bar. “She just wants to be left alone to read her book, which was, I thought, an important image to have presiding over the bar,” says Gribbon.
Though it tips to the popular subject matter of saloon paintings from the Golden Age of cocktails, Murray explains that he gave little direction as to the theme of the final piece. “When I was planning the design for Diamond Lil, before we even broke ground… I knew I wanted a painting of hers specifically at the center of the back bar,” he recalls. “I wanted the entire room looking at it, whatever it was going to be. We did not discuss subject, theme or even colors.”
For inspiration, Gribbon drew on the works of the Pre-Raphaelites, a 19th-century artistic movement for which she and Murray share a mutual appreciation, and one in keeping with the art nouveau details of the bar. “That painting is basically an inversion of an ‘Ophelia’,” Gribbon adds, citing what is perhaps the most famous Pre-Raphaelite painting by John Everett Maillais.
True to the primary doctrine of the movement, which declares the need “to have genuine ideas to express,” Gribbon emphasizes the intent of her depiction. “I really painted it for all the women out there just trying to peacefully read their books.”