New Zealand-based Pinoy painter and poet inspires the Filipino-Kiwi community with his coffee paintings

Published June 15, 2021, 11:40 AM

by Noel Pabalate

And last Independence Day, Pinoy artist Larry Abreño launched his coffee table book featuring some of his best works

When it comes to reducing stress, taking a sip of coffee may be the first thing on our minds. But did you know that some studies have now identified that small to moderate amounts of caffeine doesn’t just give you a boost but also can help improve your mood?

The New Zealand-based artist paints using coffee (Photo courtesy of Larry Abreño)

In the case of New Zealand-based Filipino painter and poet Larry Abreño, he doesn’t only drink coffee but also uses it for painting to release his stress. In fact, he has done several coffee paintings during New Zealand’s month-long lockdown in March last year. “Coffee painting helped me stay sane, creative, and productive during the lockdown,” he said.

Larry’s love affair with coffee began in 2014 when he was a guidance counselor at the University of Perpetual Help in Isabela province. He got interested when he saw his colleague teaching coffee painting on paper. Since then, the said art became his stress buster and medium to express himself. According to him, it even became a source of solace and an escape from loneliness and homesickness when he moved to New Zealand.

Not a coffee person before, Larry admitted that he can’t resist the addictive aroma of coffee every time he paints. One can imagine how he maximizes the benefits of coffee to his advantage when he needs to relax or calm down. “But apart from the energy and pleasant smell it gives while I’m painting, I also love its natural monochromatic color that creates a vintage or antique effect,” Larry says, explaining what coffee sets apart from other materials. “Also, powdered coffee and coffee beans are affordable, accessible, and eco-friendly.”

Some of Larry’s coffee art

Through researching and experimenting with different techniques being applied in acrylic and oil painting, Larry was also able to paint coffee using an airbrush, palette knife, and his bare hands on canvas and on wood board.

Larry’s artworks became gifts to family and friends during special occasions. Eventually, he also got commissions, and has been requested to give talks about his paintings and got invited to join exhibitions. In 2018, he joined an annual art exhibit at the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple during the Cherry Blossom Festival in Auckland. He stood out among all the other painters because he is the only one who used coffee. The following year, the monks who were impressed with Larry’s paintings invited him to the celebration of the Cafe Latte Festival at Christchurch temple to exhibit his works and to paint on the spot.

Larry sharing his knowledge about coffee painting

His subjects are mostly interpretations and reflections of the real world. But as a former seminarian, Larry also has a number of paintings with spiritual themes to spread good vibes. Aiming to inspire more people, he came up with a coffee table book, which he just successfully launched in Auckland last weekend, coinciding with our Independence Day. The book that features his coffee art journey was well supported by the local and Filipino community there.

Artist and poet Larry Abreño with his coffee table book during the launch.

Larry with the Filipino-Kiwi community in Auckland during the coffee table book launch last June 12, 2021 (Photo courtesy of Nanette Carillo)

Entitled “Drips and Stains,” the 30-paged coffee table book contains a collection of his impressionist, expressionist, naturalist, and realist masterpieces. The selection, which is categorized into five chapters with specific themes—shadows, Jesus, nature, women, and colour—tells a whole story pertaining to Larry’s realizations in life. Each page is not only filled with his beautiful paintings but also poetic lines that he wrote to serve as food for the soul. Turning its pages makes one ponder how we all go through darkness only to be led back to Jesus, which then makes us appreciate the beauty of nature and the importance of love enough that we see colors in life again.

One of the pages in the first chapter of the book, which shows his grasp of impressionism and his poetic skills

The first chapter of the book features some of his impressionist and expressionist pieces, characterized by lights and shadows. It also includes the cover of his self-published poetry book “Crumbs From The Heart.” Succeeding chapters feature mostly his coffee paintings that follow a more realist style, playing with different shades of brown. In the last chapter, he added some of his works that incorporate other natural materials like tea, gold leaf, frozen berries, and wine with coffee to come up with colors.

Included in the last chapter of the book are colorful coffee paintings on paper, with gold leaves, wine, and berries

“Apart from coffee, I was able to experiment on frozen berries during the lockdown. At first, I tried mixing it with water but it didn’t work out. I discovered that the juice that it produces when it melts is enough to use as paint,” Larry explains. “Then, I was also invited to visit Brookfields Vineyard here, where they asked if I could use sun-dried malbec in my paintings to promote their wines. And hopefully, they will, later on, use it in their labels.”

With all his achievements in New Zealand, many Filipino-Kiwis there consider Larry as a pride of the Pinoys. When the health crisis settles down, Larry plans to do an exhibit and launch his coffee table book in the Philippines to inspire more of his kababayan.