Call him a painter with perks. With a paintbrush, fountain pen and a fresh-brewed cup of strong Cuban espresso for ink, Reynier Llanes creates large-scale, coffee-stained paintings on paper.
The sepia-toned works, called "Espressionisms," are crafted with shots of cortadito, or espresso cut with steamed milk, and layered against acid-free paper in multiple shades of brown: caramel, butterscotch, mocha, dark chocolate.
More than two dozen of Llanes' paintings are on display at Gallery 2014 in downtown Hollywood. and when he debuts them during Friday's opening reception, the night will serve as another chance to be well-caffeinated.
"I may have one or two coffees to start," Llanes, 28, says with a laugh during a tour of his exhibit Thursday morning. "I love it. I have it every morning before I start painting."
It all started with an accidental spill on one of his artworks, and as the java stained the canvas brown, he marveled at the drink’s use as a watercolorlike medium. The Pinar del Rio, Cuba-born artist, now of Charleston, S.C., says his childhood in the agricultural, coffee-growing mountain province was marked by poverty and limited access to art supplies, and so his coffee creations are likewise filled with milieu reminiscent of Cuban ruralism: floating farmhouses, hens, working tobacco and coffee farmers.
"The smell of the coffee projects to me back to Pinar del Rio, back to my roots," says Llanes, who initially moved to Naples from Cuba in 2007. "I'm very fond of the countryside in Cuba, and the people living there, they are the most spiritual, the most pure and humble, and the most interactive with nature and also disconnected from technology."
His painting "The Blessing of Being Present" is autobiographical and contains symbolism-laden magical realism ("I want them to be ironic and satirical"), depicting himself in the embrace of his wife. His eyes are closed, seashells cover his ears ("So I can hear the ocean," he says) and, between his outstretched hands, an angel and a demon confront each other. Many of his paintings are watercolors – he dilutes the coffee with water – but to achieve finer lines, he pours cortadito into a metal fountain pen.
"The espresso is very acidic and it oxidizes in the pen," he says and, after a pause, adds, "I go through a lot of pens."
In another self-portrait, "Moving Out," Llanes recaptures the moment he left Cuba. He puffs a cigar while clutching a sack of belongings, which are filled with live chickens and an espresso machine. Other paintings are less autobiographical and more symbolic, as in "The Time Chronicles," which depicts a sundial fitted with coins collected from different parts of the world. The painting, he says, is a reference to America's "time-obsessed, technology-fueled" society, as opposed to the slower, deliberate pace of his rural Cuban lineage.
"It's real art, but I've been concerned that people might consider coffee art a gimmick. But I consider my art as a way of storytelling, as a narrative. People can create a story of their own through the works," Llanes says. "People are fascinated by its coffee in paintings. It wakes them up."
The opening reception for "Espressionism: The Coffee Paintings of Reynier Llanes" is 5-7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7 at Gallery 2014, 2014 Harrison St., Hollywood. The exhibtion closes March 8. Free. Call 954-505-3291 or go to Gallery2014.com.
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