Coffee painting goes viral

A ‘coffee portrait’ of Hugh Laurie (known to most for his role as Dr House in American television medical drama ‘House’) went viral last week, just as Maria A. Aristidou was setting up for her first solo show in Limassol.

One of Aristidou’s first works to be sold locally is a coffee on aquarelle duplicate of photojournalist Steve McCurry’s ‘Afghan Girl’, which appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1984.
Defining herself as being somewhere between a commercial and fine artist, Aristidou’s ‘coffee paintings’ have an allure of pop art and are inclined to depict portraitures of familiar public characters, through brushstrokes of alternating blends of coffee.

Looking back at the phenomenon Aristidou has found herself in the middle of, she says her discovery of coffee’s potential as an art medium was merely accidental.

“I always carry art supplies with me such as paper, watercolours, pencils, markers, brushes and so on – and, I always carry a cup of coffee with me, always!,” reveals Aristidou.

It was when Aristidou accidently spilled the remainder of her coffee cup on a work in progress at her mother’s shop that the idea of making use of her favourite beverage came to light.

“It was a good thing I always carry a brush with me,” Aristidou tells me, as she explains that instead of freaking out over her clumsiness, she embraced the accident and gradually began experimenting with simple designs using an ‘ink’ that has rarely been put to paper.

“Very soon I wanted to learn more about this medium (coffee) and how far it could go. Painting after painting, I would challenge myself with the various subjects that I chose,” explains Aristidou, whose works predominantly involve public figures, pop culture and movie characters that she holds close to the heart.

“And this is how I began discovering my technique,” she adds.
In practice, Aristidou is a commercial artist, meaning that she mostly works on individual projects and commissions, yet her love for design didn’t stop her from following an academic path in fine arts, a path which has also led her to establish her own painting series that are not related to the ‘coffee works’ and which she calls Illustrative Abstract Expressionism.

Having studied Fine Arts at the Manchester Metropolitan University followed by a Master’s degree in Arts Health at the University of Central Lancashire, Aristidou admits that she has always painted, or rather, always created. “Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved all kinds of art forms including theatre, design, movies, computer-generated imagery, costume design and so on,” recalls Aristidou.

Yet when the time came to decide what direction to choose for her educational endeavours, Fine Arts was her one and only choice.

The effect of coffee painting
Hugh Laurie’s reaction after Aristidou posted a photo of his portrait on Instagram, a social media platform based on sharing and commenting on visual imagery and photographs was perhaps Aristidou’s most compelling achievement as far as the potential of her work catching people’s attention.

“Stunning!” Laurie commented under her photos, a post which has collected over 175,000 likes and has had over 2,000 shares.
“I am a big fan of public figures and in general famous characters and popular items. I am a huge Hugh Laurie fan, I always was. And he has the perfect face for coffee painting. So does Varoufakis!,” says Aristidou in response to what has given her a boost of confidence.
Yet this reaction shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. “People love the work, I think they are amazed that this material (coffee blend), that we use every day to make our coffee, can actually be used to make artwork,” Aristidou reveals.

Modestly, Aristidou also says that as a medium, it doesn’t differ much from traditional painting methods.

“It’s very much like any other watercolour painting… with the only difference that it only comes in a single colour with so many shades of coffee… never mind 50 shades of grey; Try 50 shades of coffee!,” jokes Aristidou. And as far as supply is concerned, she never runs out of coffee!

If one was to look around a little, there are very few artists who use coffee as a singular medium, and although Aristidou’s approach may be original, her take on what she is doing has nothing to do with being unique; in her eyes, all artists are original in their own way, regardless of their approach.

This perhaps also explains why Aristidou is not tied down to using just coffee as a means of artistic expression. Holding a passion for oils and watercolours, Aristidou divides her work into categories based predominantly on the medium she uses as opposed to subject matter.

“I separate my work into categories because I don’t like mastering only one medium. I like experimenting with new things and seeing how far they will take me. I love painting with oils and watercolours. I love illustration but I also love abstract explosion of colours and brushstrokes. I hate limitations,” reveals Aristidou.

And the potentials of different coffee brands don’t limit Aristidou. As she says, “each brand has its own outcome, so depending on what I am working on, I will choose the right brand and blend”.

While the aroma dispersed as she works is probably one that keeps her on her toes and seldom lets her doze off.

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About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London