Local artist uses coffee to make brewed art


A collection of Alla Abi Haidar's espresso paintings "Coffe on Canvas" will be on display 5-7 tonight at Lennies. A lot of surrealism is seen in his art, comparing it to works created by M.C. Escher. Courtesy Photo

When a student brews too much coffee while cramming for midterms, he might toss the extra in the trash or down the sink.

Graduate student Alaa Abi Haidar prefers to paint with it.

Abi Haidar, a Ph.D. student in informatics, will showcase an exhibit 5 p.m. Tuesday at Lennie’s to display art rarely taught in the classroom. While most painters might use mediums such as oil, acrylic or watercolor, he is more inclined toward espresso.
A self-proclaimed “citizen of the world,” having spent the last decade traveling between Europe and North America, Abi Haidar was actually born in Lebanon to a family of artists.

His father paints primarily in oils and acrylics and owns his own art school but never taught anything about painting with coffee.

In fact, Abi Haidar said he only tried it because he didn’t want to be wasteful.

A year ago, after arranging a coffee date with a friend, Abi Haidar was left with an extra shot of espresso when he found out she was unable to come.

Instead of wasting it, he grabbed a spoon and a corkboard and started to play. What he ended up with was a portrait of his friend made out of his favorite drink.

“I think if there’s enough inspiration coming from the other person or the other object and there’s a necessity to express yourself, you can invent any technique,” Abi Haidar said. “I was inspired by the absence of my friend, and I used espresso coffee to express it.”

But while Abi Haidar recognizes he isn’t the only one painting with coffee, he said he hasn’t found anyone else doing it in Bloomington.

He said at first he didn’t expect much, but found that the coffee had a quality he couldn’t find in other mediums.

The feel and color of coffee, he said, is something he hasn’t been able to replicate with acrylics.

“You can compare it maybe to acrylic, but this tone of brown is unique to coffee,” he said. “It’s kind of the sepia tone of older stuff.”

To create the paintings, he said he brews the coffee extremely dense with very little water in the espresso machine, then allows it to settle into a thick consistency.

When applying the coffee to canvas, typically with a spoon, he uses multiple layers to vary the colors, with each new layer creating a darker tone.

To lighten the painting, all he needs is a wet towel. Instead of a palette, he has a cup.
Abi Haidar said there is a lot of surrealism in his art, comparing it to works created by M.C. Escher, but he also enjoys painting scenery and objects such as his painting of the Sample Gates.

Michael Fox, general manager of Lennie’s, said the restaurant has been using the walls to showcase local talent for years and was more than happy to have Abi Haidar exhibit his work.

“I took a look at his work and I thought it was outstanding,” he said. “So I was happy to have it on the walls because it’s unique, very well executed.”

During the exhibit, viewers will be able to see approximately 30 of Abi Haidar’s paintings, many of which will be on sale, along with a chance to enter a lottery to win posters and prints of his work.

Afterwards, Abi Haidar said he plans to continue pursuing a career in informatics while painting on the side, as long as he can stand the smell.

“You can usually smell coffee coming out of them,” he said. “When I’m painting I get coffee everywhere, my room just smells like it.”

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