Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Over the Lips

Pie Hole offers a mouthful and an eyeful

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Driving south on Broadway Avenue, the newly finished gaping maw at the entrance to the Pie Hole pizzeria is hard to miss. Patrons must literally step through the open red mouth and sharp yellow and orange teeth--a pie hole, get it?--to reach the savory sauce-and-cheese-covered dough inside.

Once inside, the colorful wall murals compete with the smells of garlic and pepperoni and visitors may be tempted to change grab-and-go plans for a sit-down lunch. The artful decor is something that Pie Hole owner Russ Crawforth (who co-owns both locations with his brother Jason) knew he wanted when they opened the restaurants nearly two years ago.

"One of the things I like to do with the businesses is make it so that people want to hang out there," Crawforth said.

And to do that, it helps if their eyes are as stimulated as their noses and taste buds.

"When we first opened, we put out a call to artists," Crawforth said. "We got Karl Henke to do the long wall with the pizza ninja throwing slices of pizza. It grew from there.

Patrons began asking if they, too, could contribute. Crawforth would hand them a ceiling tile and tell them, if they brought it back completed, he'd give them a free pie. He's lost a few tiles, but in exchange, Crawforth has a ceiling in his establishment that is crick-in-the-neck worthy.

Banksy-esque spray-painted stencils (courtesy of Jason Crawforth), graffiti, abstracts and comic-style graphics dot the ceiling--work done by students, employees and patrons and, at some point, even artist Grant Olsen is slated to design a tile. It's such an interesting, urban, welcoming environment that Crawforth wanted to make sure the outside reflected that as well, and would bring people in to the establishment to see it all.

"I wanted it to be attention-getting. It didn't have to say Pie Hole, but I wanted it to be Pie Hole," Crawforth said.

So he asked his employees if any of them knew someone who could create a mural at the entrance. Henke had suggested an image of something like a clown's mouth on the front of the building and an employee of the downtown Pie Hole suggested artist and Boise State student Evan English. Crawforth told English about the mouth idea, and English took it from there.

English said Crawforth gave him a "bunch of artistic freedom" and he knew it was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

"This was definitely my largest project," said English, who works on a much smaller scale and with text and portraiture. "So it was a chance for me to explore a whole different side [of art]."

English wanted to keep the design simple, knowing that people driving by wouldn't have time to investigate a complicated mural. Plus, the 19-year-old painting major already holds down two jobs and with school going back into session, he knew it needed to be something he could complete relatively quickly. Even though he did it freehand, the project went faster than expected, taking him a total of about 20 hours to complete.

"I woke up at 7 a.m. every morning and worked pretty fast before it got too hot," English said.

Pie Hole, 1016 Broadway Ave., 208-424-2225, pieholeusa.com.