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Indian artist in Oman showcases his self-taught ‘coffee art’

21 Jan 2023 coffee art By ANIRBAN RAY

Indian artist Dheeraj Gadicherla uses coffee to express his creativity through coffee art. His ideas and his coffee, both spill onto his canvas with trancelike yet earthy results

Many things can happen over a cup of coffee. Discussions, agreements, conclusions, deals… but what about creative flair? Coffee can, indeed, breathe life into portraits, landscapes, abstract artworks. And how!

For Muscat based Indian artist Dheeraj Gadicherla, coffee is more than a stimulating beverage – it is the key medium for his artistic endeavours. Coffee helps him translate his thoughts and the images imprinted on his mind onto his canvas. He creates faces, landscapes, emotions and a variety of artistic expression, all with coffee.

“For a long time I called my paintings ‘coffee and time experiments’ since I was not sure how my paintings would turn out. Take oil paint, a time tested medium as an example, the artist is guaranteed a certain colour after the paint has dried due to the multitude of calibrations the paint manufacturer may have done through due course. It could be by varying the filler medium or the quality of raw materials used in extracting the pigments etc,” Gadicherla said, adding, “I cannot afford this luxury of research into my medium: coffee. So, I took it upon myself to research this medium in depth.”

The idea to use coffee as a medium for art started a few years back when this full time engineer started to paint a portrait for his friend using coffee as a medium.

The way coffee moves…

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He said, “This all began when I painted a friend’s likeness using coffee as the medium. I realised that this beverage that I consume with so much gusto is a very malleable medium in art. Earthy tones are often associated with vegetable dyes and other mineral extracts. However, the earthiness that coffee brings to paintings has been a revelation – there is a richness in tone and depth of colour that I find eternally fascinating. The way coffee moves on canvas is unpredictable and often I have no control on the final outcome.”

A year ago, Gadicherla had held a solo exhibition in Muscat on the theme of mental illnesses wherein all artworks were created using coffee as the medium. The exhibition of his coffee art was well received for his depth of expression as well as for the dexterous use of coffee in portraying various types of mental illnesses.

“Art, no matter the medium, is entirely subjective. However, I do not think that conventional media could’ve render the same effect for my abstracts in a way that coffee did, especially in portraying mental illness,” he said.

Throughout his work, Gadicherla has used coffee as a medium with much experimentation. He has brewed coffee in different proportions to create the shades he needed as well as prepared concoctions with egg and tempera (modelling paste) and exposing it to the elements.

While drying each layer, he introduces new elements based on his thoughts or experiences to determine the direction of the composition. The elements could be more coffee, sea water, sand from the desert, air, salt, vinegar, etc, incorporated into each layer until he feels his thoughts are transposed on the canvas. The layers are then dried with varying degrees of heat, humidity, wind, etc to dictate the direction of the painting.

Multiple techniques, unconventional tools

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“Brewing coffee is also a crucial step. I brew it in multiple ways. The espresso machine and South Indian filter coffee press are my favourite accessories. Sometimes I boil the coffee out to paint with it, sometimes I let the prepared coffee dry in the summer sun for over five days and then use it to paint, he said.

Gadicherla is unorthodox with the gear, too, for his coffee art. Along with regular brushes, he often uses a toothbrush, construction trowels, spackle tools, air compressors, pencils, fingers etc.

One of Gadicherla’s challenging works has been the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque using coffee. “I was truly able to appreciate the artisans who have put in so much effort into building such a beautiful mosque. It was a humbling experience, albeit very taxing on my wrist and forearms.” The other one has been a painting that was two years in the making, to represent the artist’s life at each stage in various places he travelled – Sri Lanka, Oman, India, Vietnam.

For Gadicherla, creating a standard portrait in coffee art usually takes seven to ten days. “This is because of the various layers I build with coffee and each layer needs to dry completely before I apply the next layer. My abstract works take longer due to the process I employ – each abstract painting takes anywhere between a month to 2 years to complete, and comprises 10 to 12layers of coffee.”

The coffee artist often lays his canvases for drying in the desert or on the beach, whenever he prepares them on site during a camp. However, while the paintings dry up and their hues mature, his creative thought process goes through several layers of evolution as new ideas dawn on him and new inspiration motivates him for his next venture.

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