Coffee Artist Ezju of Seattle The Ph'Kaki Interview
Warm Up Questions!
Ph’Kaki: Tell us about yourself
Ezju: I could tell you some basic history such as I was born in 1968 at Hamet Medical Center in Erie, Pennsylvania on March 23rd but what fun would that be? Something closer to I collect ugly disfigured dolls and have a serious issue with nose hairs might be a little more enlightening!
When I was growing up two of my best friends were raccoons and I build a full scale bridge of the U.S.S Enterprise in the wooded area across the street from my grandparent's house. All materials for the ship came from a dumpster behind a local electronics store.
The wooded area also served as a Broadway music hall for my cousins and I. Unfortunately only two people showed up, Mr. & Mrs. Moser. They were apparently the only two people we sold tickets to that understood the address written by the 12 year olds! Address: Across the street from grandmother's house"
As far as I know I'm one of the few people who can honestly say they have robbed a moving train! No kidding! If you want details on this one you need to get to know me better and ask over some serious mojitos.I love my wife and both our children more than words can describe. I love our cat not quite as much but enough.
Ph’Kaki: Where were you born, raised and live now?Ezju: As mentioned above I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania right on Lake Erie. I was raised in Erie and spent a great deal of time on Presque Isle (7 mile peninsula in Lake Erie) and Jamestown, New York with my Aunt, Uncle and Cousins.Today I call Seattle my home as it's been for the past decade or more now.
Ph’Kaki: How would you describe your childhood?
Ezju: Umm? I started to a bit in the first question. . .
I spent a lot of time alone exploring the wooded area across the street from my Grandparents home where we lived off and on. I had a daily routine where I would tromp my through the trees looking for good sword sticks and then I would attack all the menacing trees in my path until the stick broke. Some times a dieing tree would fall under my young sword and crash to the ground in a mighty . . . well . . . crash!
Emerging out the other end of the woods I would visit Chico the horse that lived in a small coral in Mr. Hess's yard. Some times Chico would even let me touch him if I had something yummy for him to chomp. Mr. Hess would allow me to help feed Chico when it was time to untie a new bail of hay. It was the bailing twine I was interested in!
Back off to the woods with my bailing twine I could now make a bow and scour the woods for the perfect arrow sticks. Some sticks would just get twine tied to it making it a whip incase I ran into any great buffalo in the little wooded area.
Getting the idea?
Ph’Kaki: How would you describe your life now?
Ezju: I've traded the woods for the city. I've traded the horse for motorcycles (as soon as I get a new one). I've traded raccoons for my family. The rest is about the same if you follow at all.
Ph’Kaki: Tell us about your art training
Ezju: After traveling all around the world to learn from Tibetan monks, Italian and Spanish masters, Japanese print makers, the Pope and some mystical guy in Dubuque, Iowa I decided to be self-taught. I am trained as a computer animator and designer from the Art Institute of Seattle but they didn't teach art there ironically enough. Self-taught it is. Books. Friends. Time. I'm still in training and expect to be so for all my life.
Ph’Kaki: How would you describe your artistic style? Your artistic philosophy?
Ezju: Surrealism & realism. I've never been fond of or drawn to the abstract until recently. Most of my paintings are figurative or portraiture but some of last year's paintings were experimentation with coffee and en caustic. Imperfection is perfection would be my philosophy.
Ph’Kaki: Which artist inspired you most? Which art movement?
Ezju: The artist who inspired me most was a Mexican artist, Carlos, who I worked with at the Seattle Asian Art Museum while I was in school. Not many would know him or his work outside of Mexico City but his attitude and philosophy that things did not need to be perfect to be perfect helped me come out of my artistic shell. Thank you Carlos.
Ph’Kaki: Where do you feel an artist's place is in society?
Ezju: There are many types of artists and as many places in society. Some are content to produce "pretty" art for the sake of an easy market or maybe they just like pretty. Some artists feel they need to be on the bloody edge of controversy pointing out white elephants in culture. The gamut in-between is fairly limitless and they all have a place in society. They are all important.
Ph’Kaki: If money and availability were not an issue, what one painting would be hanging in your home?
Ezju: I would love to frame and display any drawing that my mother did when she was still an artist. Some where along the way she lost the desire to draw and paint. I want to look at her portraits with unfinished noses to remind myself not to give up learning and growing. I would equally love if she found that drive again in art and life.
If you weren't looking for something so sappy I guess I wouldn't mind The Denial of St. Peter by Caravaggio or anything by contemporary Spanish impressionist Jose Royo.
Ph’Kaki: When painting, do you listen to music or is it quiet? If music what kind/artist?
Ezju: Yes. Sometimes loudly other times not so much. The artist and type of music really depends on the mood as does the volume. It also depends on the style I'm painting in. I'm very into Country though it isn't uncommon to hear Classical, Rap, or Punk emulating from my studio.
Ph’Kaki: If given the opportunity, who in the world would you want to sit for a portrait by you? What medium and style would you use?Ezju: My wife would be the first. I would use oils and work in Jose Royo's style if I could master it.
Ph’Kaki: Who is your favorite contemporary artist? Why?
Ezju: José Royo became my favorite contemporary a few years back when I was working for a permanent interior landscape company. We were doing an installation and maintenance call in a home near Seattle and the owner had several Royo originals and prints throughout the house. I fell in love with his seductive style immediately.
The kicker is up 'till this point I have not been a fan of impressionism. My personal aesthetic leans more towards realism and humanism.
Ph’Kaki: Who is your favorite historical artist? Why?
Ezju: Michelangelo comes to mind because he was what I consider the quintessential artist. His work in many mediums was beautiful but he was also an intellectual.
Ph’Kaki: What is your most remarkable personality quark?
Ezju: I am a starter. I have great ideas and get very excited at the prospect of a new project. The down side of that is I get board once the project is underway and I start to look for new projects to start. I have a whole life of unfinished works in many senses of the word that I wish I could finish. I'm getting better at that though!
Ph’Kaki: What interest or hobbies do you have other than fine art?Currently I am restoring a 1973 VW Super Beetle. I've lost count of how many VW Bugs I've owned over the years but the 1973 is the same year as the first one I owned in high school. Ah, memories!Motorcycles hold a special draw if I could just afford a new one! As you probably don't know my last motorcycle burned down the house I was living in some years back now.
Dogs. Love dogs. I may just be one myself if left to my own design.Reading is good.
I usually go in spurts where I'll read quite a few books and then not again for a year or so and then quite a few again. Strange cycle I know.
Ph’Kaki: How do you take your coffee or tea?
Ezju: I like my coffee with cream and sugar or with vanilla soy milk and no sugar. Coffee is a treat as Mocha but that puts way too many inches on the belly to have too often. Tea is usually a black tea with honey and milk or spiced chai.
Ph’Kaki: If a coffee roaster named a blend after you what would it be called? Would it be a light, medium or dark roast?
Ezju: If a coffee roaster was so inclined to name a blend after me it would be called . . . Ezju . . . and most likely be medium to dark roast with a non-acidic body.
All Warmed Up!
Ph’Kaki: The obvious question: why coffee?
Ezju: Back in 2002 I was sitting with a friend in a little café called Marista's just south of Seattle in Federal Way. Our conversation that day centered on what art was and who could do "art". Examples of what we thought art was or was not came up and one of them was Jackson Pollok and his famous technique. My friend who exclaimed that he couldn't even draw a stick figure held up his napkin at this point and said "look! I'm a modern artist!" This sparked a joke where I framed a coffee ring stained paper and placed it in his work area. As a joke the seed was planted.
Some months later I was sitting in the same café thinking of ways to tell my wife, then fiancé, that I lost my job and that I wanted to peruse art as a career. There was a barista at the drive through window with light streaming in all around here like an messiah handing out her caffeinated gospel to all who drove threw. I started to sketch on a napkin with my coffee. The joke that was planted some moths ago started to grow.
In the beginning I had no idea that I would do more than a few novel paintings with my newly discovered mediums. After the first few were done and I showed them to friends, family and a few gallery owners. The response was positive. The more people I talked to the more I realized that not only was coffee a huge part of American culture but being the 2nd largest legal commodity in the world coffee was a very large part of world culture. The more I learned about the history, different countries, and peoples that are involved in global coffee culture the more I wanted to peruse my Coffee Culture series painted with coffee.
Ph’Kaki: Describe your coffee "paint" making process.
Ezju: I knew coffee would stain and would be quite permanent. I have enough white business shirts embarrassed just before important meetings to know its resilience. What I found with my first coffee sketch was the tonal range was limited even with glazing.
Being the curious lad that I am the experiments to create a coffee medium was on. I tried several recipes from adding coffee to acrylic medium to brewing coffee in linseed oil and met some limited achievement. Then I remembered a old school exercise where the students would boil down salt water to find concentrated salt left on the bottom of the pan so I tried condensing large amounts of coffee.
Ph’Kaki: What is your coffee painting technique?
Ezju: I have a couple. The first is applying the coffee paint much like a watercolor depending on full saturation for the darks and thinning the paint out with water for the lighter tonal values. Some times I add a bit of pigment for more colorful image.
The second technique is layering coffee paint, applied by brush or hand, between en caustic (wax medium) applications and building up layers.
Ph’Kaki: What do you find most unique about coffee as an artistic medium?
Ezju: Using food products as an artistic medium has been done periodically throughout history. Some artists use food as a sensory stimulant to produce their art and use food products as well.Most people don't know that if you mix salmon eggs and goose feces you'll get a rich red pigment or if you take horse urine and put it on copper the chemical reaction produces a wonderful blue pigment.
What does this all have to do with coffee being unique? Coffee is a global commodity and social icon that most cultures can relate to on some level. It's a social equalizer of sorts. It's not something one expects to see on a canvas but it does very well there to produce images as well as open minds to a different way of thinking.
Ph’Kaki: Have you ever drank or tasted your coffee paint? Describe it!
Ezju: Yes. Early batches of coffee paint where horrible. I was burring my paint much the way Starbucks burns their coffee beans they serve. More recent batches have had a very rich almost chocolate pallet to them. One dipped pinkie is like a quad espresso!
Ph’Kaki: Have you ever had or made others taste your coffee paint? Describe their reaction!
Ezju: I'm a bit of a sadist sometimes so of course I temp folks to taste my coffee paint! The reaction is akin to someone biting into a lemon. Wrinkled up faces galor.
Ph’Kaki: How do you think history books will look back on Arfé, coffee art, coffee painting, and coffee artists?
Ezju: I want history to spell my name right and not celebrate my birth day on a different day than I was born because it more convenient.
I'm not sure about my actual contribution at this point. As far as my fine art career I'm still very young and not yet a master. In time I would like to be a master of my art and pass that along to my children. I'm not sure how the history books will record that but that's what I want.
Ph’Kaki: How do you want history to remember you and your contribution to the art world?
Ezju: History is a funny thing. It will all come down to how popular the coffee painting movement will become and if one or more of the artists involved can become popular enough to warrant more than a foot note. I don't expect much more than a foot note but a few paragraphs would be nice. Maybe a chapter?
Ph’Kaki: How do you want history to remember Arfé, coffee art, coffee painting, and coffee artists?
Ezju: Most artists and art movements are a result of the world they live in. The use of coffee as an artistic medium definitely is a product of the times. The actual use as well as the subject matter is of cultural significance. This applies to artists and art in the United States and it's heavy commercialization and marketing of a leisurely lifestyle outlined by $4 cups of coffee as well as tradition steeped cultures in the east depicting a completely different lifestyle and society.
I want the history books to look at coffee artists and their art in the same light as they do the impressionists and how they were a product of their times.
Ph’Kaki: What significance does coffee play in your culture? Your life?
Ezju: This is a culture that will complain about $2.50 per gallon of gas but pay on average $3.50 for a 16oz mocha. That comes out to roughly $28.00 a gallon for coffee. I think that illustrates the significance coffee plays in my culture.
My life. I drink it for pleasure. I drink it for stimulus when I'm working late. I drink it because I'm board. I paint with it. I get a sense of accomplishment from my coffee paintings and sometimes recognition and money. Coffee has even made me some friends all over the world. I'd say coffee has a significant place in my life.
Ph’Kaki: What cultural influences do you feel most impacted and/or are most reflected in your work?
Ezju: Most of my work is observation. I look at people and situations. Most of my life has been exposed to my culture with limited access to others. My education and work experience has been in design and branding so in addition to being a consumer I am very caught up in the whole corporate America culture. This has had a significant influence on my work, choice of subject matter, and medium.
Ph’Kaki: Do you think the recent proliferation of coffee artists around the world is Zeist Geist?
Ezju: Without a doubt and it's about time!
Ph’Kaki: Some people think Arfé or coffee art/painting is just a novelty or quick passing fad. Do you believe this? Where do you see this movement going in the near and distant future?
Ezju: Since I started these interviews with the initial dozen or so artists I've found around the word at least 3 more have emerged. They found me some how. I'm starting to believe that this movement will continue to grow and will not be considered a novelty or fad.
In the near future I would love to do a show here in Seattle with as many of the coffee artists from around the world represented and in attendance. I think that would be something.
Ph'Kaki: Has commercial advertising, marketing and design had an impact on your art, subject matter and/or decision to use coffee as an artistic medium?
Ezju: As mentioned earlier I work in the design industry directly dealing with marketing and advertising. I also am a partner in an online entertainment magazine dedicated to promoting independent artists around the world.I can't see how living in consumer driven America and being involved in the design industry can not have had a significant impact on my art.
Ph’Kaki: How do patrons and art admirers describe your work?
Ezju: Most are in disbelief that it is coffee. Once denial has passed they are fascinated that the level of detail that can be reached and questions ensue. Words like unique, clever, and fun are often used to describe my work.
Ph’Kaki: How do critics describe your work?
Ezju: Honestly I have not had much in the way of critical review. In one sense I am relived. Art critics can be brutal and being untrained I'm afraid of what they may say. On the other hand I would love to know how I stack up.
Ph’Kaki: How as the media received you and your work?
Ezju: Over the past few years I have had TV news features, live interviews, newspaper articles and even feature on the cover a magazine. I've been very flattered and received better than I deserve.In the future I would like for the media to focus less on the novelty of coffee as an artistic medium an report more on the cultural and social messages and implications.
Ph’Kaki: What level of satisfaction and success have you had on a personal, social, spiritual, and commercial level with your art?
Ezju: I am very happy with the success of my work. Largely I paint for self enjoyment though I do feel a sense of pride when a friend or family member likes a piece or asks if I could paint something for them.Being recognized by the media or patrons is a whole different level of satisfaction. I'm still learning how to come to terms with this.
Ph’Kaki: What is your life dream in regards to your art? Have you fulfilled it? If not how do you plan to reach it?
Ezju: I would love to successful enough to work on my art full time and not have to worry about my family's financial well being. I would be able to produce more work at a higher quality both in workmanship and concept if the burden of working for a living were lifted.
Ph’Kaki: During interviews a local radio personality, Ichabod Caine on KMPS, ends his interviews with the question I leave you with. What is your very first child hood memory?
Ezju: My first childhood memory is around 2 years old and playing in the backyard in a flexible tunnel tube.Ichabad Cain on KMPS asks this question and then finds some correlation between what the musical artist is currently doing and the memory. I don't know what the relationship is here. If anyone can see it please e-mail me and let me know!
Visit Ezju's Web site: No Such Animal Studios »