Food For Thought, Get Cultured — December 27, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Whynot Coffee and Art Gallery Opens


whynot coffee

Standing out from the surrounding darkly-lit restaurants and pubs is a bright, airy space at 175 Orchard Street. This is the second location of Whynot Coffee & Art Gallery, which recently held its grand opening party.

The new Whynot on Orchard Street serves the same popular Blue Bottle coffee as the original West Village location (at the corner of Christopher and Gay Streets). But what distinguishes the space on Orchard Street are the walls. While many coffee shops and cafes display art, often the pieces are drowned out by the decor of the space. Not the case at Whynot; here, the decor is kept to a minimum–white walls and simple, dark woodtone furniture, allowing the art to have a full impact on visitors.

whynot coffee

This space is touted equally as a coffee shop and art gallery. Whynot owner Emil Stefkov aims to combine his coffee shops with ventures he finds personally inspiring. Stefkov first partnered with artist Jeremy Penn when Penn created a large commissioned painting of Brigitte Bardot for the West Village Whynot. They’ve partnered again to create this coffee and art haven on Orchard Street.

The works currently on display are all by Penn and he will serve as curator for the space, explaining that he will display art from a large network of artists on a rotating basis.

Enter the space now and you’ll first notice Penn’s large celebrity portraits, including Kate Moss, David Bowie, and Bardot, all of which possess a Warhol quality. There’s also a series of square Bardot portraits, in which a bright red streak is smeared over Bardot’s mouth. Bardot has long been an inspiration, explained Penn; she’s a representation of women finding their inner sexuality and discovering womanhood.

But the most striking pieces are perhaps a trio displayed on a right corner of the café: three identical mugshots, each treated differently by Penn’s artistic hand. There’s something incongruous about the photo: the man in the photo looks very well-groomed, right down to his neatly parted hair and bowtie; but the mugshot indicates a troubled life behind the polish. And there’s something about the eyes.

“Sanpaku,” says Penn. Sanpaku, he tells me, means “three whites” in Japanese and describes people whose irises are surrounded by white on three sides (left, right, and bottom). It’s the sort of phenomenon that you notice only when someone has pointed it out to you. Penn explained that he learned that people with sanpaku eyes are said to face tragic deaths. Some prominent figures throughout history said to have sanpaku eyes: John and Robert Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe, and John Lennon.

I found myself drawn in by Penn’s enthusiasm as he described the story behind these pieces. The three are part of a larger series, called The Deception of William Murphy, in which Penn reproduced the image in different mediums. Penn received the original mugshot from a collector, and was so intrigued by the man–and those eyes–that he set out to try to discover who he was. Through research with national archives, Penn narrowed down a possible name for the man: William Murphy. But there was a catch, as there were two possible William Murphys, one who had died a war hero, the other who had died in a knife fight. The single image represents a fascinating study on identity. The complete story of Penn’s journey into the world of William Murphy is detailed at With this series, Penn has created pieces that will appeal not just to art lovers but also to history buffs and conspiracy theorists alike.

On a cold day, head into Whynot Coffee and Art Gallery to enjoy not just a warm cup of coffee but also fine art. You’ll be able to satisfy all your senses.

Whynot Coffee & Art Gallery is located at 175 Orchard Street.

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