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The artists who have turned to coffee for their creative fuel

3 September 2021

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Opportunities for profligacy and hedonism not being as plentiful as they once were, your roving correspondent tends to turn to caffeine for his most reliable stimulant these days. So you can imagine his delight on receiving an invitation to the opening of ‘The Art of Coffee’, an exhibition celebrating the launch of The Gentlemen Baristas’ new coffee house on Piccadilly (23–26 September). The works on view, which will be sold in a charity auction, are all made using ‘the medium of coffee’.

Les Fleurs (2021), Joanna Layla

Les Fleurs (2021), Joanna Layla

This is not the first time an artist has turned to their morning cup of joe not just for a shot of energy but also as a creative tool. Apollo has previously featured the work of London-born artist Ian Bourgeout, who discovered the medium when drawing in cafes, because he ‘wasn’t in the habit of asking for a glass of water, so I ended up having to dip my brush into the espresso cup’. There is even some coffee-infused art in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: in 2014 the museum acquired a pair of drawings by the self-taught artist Thornton Dial, who used brewed coffee in lieu of traditional watercolours (for an in-depth analysis of his process, and the precise kinds of coffee that he used, see this article by one of the Met’s conservators).

Plonking a paintbrush into a cup of coffee seems to be the preferred technique for most artists. In an interview, self-appointed Coffee Artists™ Angel Sarkela-Saur and Andrew Saur have described how they initially experimented with whole roast beans ‘to see if we could draw with it like charcoal’ as well as mixing the grounds into a pastel box. ‘It didn’t work at all,’ they admit.

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