By Kathryn S. Taylor
Avi Roth is obsessed with coffee. But he’s not your typical caffeine addict. Roth, who has had a long career as a successful jewelry and fashion photographer, now turns his sights to an original abstract expressionist art created with coffee. That’s right: coffee. In his adept hands, coffee takes on a life, or rather ‘lives’ of its own. Roth can tell tales with different blends and grinds, as well as by layering his brews. He manipulates the flow of the coffee with a variety of tools–none of which is a brush. The artist then utilizes diverse methods of removing the coffee from certain areas to align with his visions.
Unlike Jackson ‘Jack the Dripper’ Pollock, however, ‘Avi the Coffee Dripper’ Roth then utilizes 21st century technology, and manipulates the art via Photoshop, anthropomorphizing them, perhaps so as to better continue the dialogue he claims to have with them. The result is what Roth calls a Coffeegraph®!
Some of the art has a primordial, organic quality about it. Muddy with grinds, their substance matches their depictions: primitive man or the gods he worshipped. Others evoke a Hollywood glamour, gleaming with froth and light-infused colors. Whichever direction Roth takes, he gives his creatures life, but stops short of allowing them to live on their own. They remain beings and fantastical creatures, divorced from reality. These creatures are safely confined within the boundaries of the two-dimensional world–under the bed, where monsters belong–until we as viewers feel safe enough to bring them out for observation and conversation at our own discretion.
As Roth was raised in Israel, not surprisingly, many of his mixed-media works speak to a Jewish past. For instance, in The Birth of Golem, a misshapen creature emerges from a swirl of clay afterbirth. But the artist has given Golem a soul, which burns red within his body. His mouth cries out in tortured dismay at the state of human existence, the pain of being and coming into being.
Another, The Rabbi of Sana’a speaks to a Jewish future. The real Rabbi of Sana’a is a contemporary leader of a Jewish community exiled from their home in Sada’a, Yemen. Roth’s portrait of the Rabbi shows him with glowing orange ears, but a mouth that is swallowed by the white flames that make up his goatee. The work is a manifestation of the adage that a wise man listens while saying little. Yemen, perhaps not so coincidentally, is where coffee was first cultivated commercially, as far back as around 525 A.D.
Magnificent Bucephalus shows an outline of a horse-like creature on top of an egg-shaped world, little definition in color or form between them, circled by a vortex. Bucephalus was Alexander the Great’s favorite horse. Myths and legends have grown up around this heroic duo, and no less a scribe than Homer wrote of the equine in The Iliad. A Delphic oracle supposedly told Alexander’s father that the one riding a horse of Bucephalus unusual description would become King of the World.
Roth’s Coffeegraphs® have more than one tale to tell. While the artist claims to have an ongoing dialogue with him or her, each observer will find a wealth of meaning that is personal to him or her. And who wouldn’t want to have a conversation with the mainly heroic characters Roth portrays? Even if it occurs in one’s own head, it can’t help but be fascinating.
Naturally, the color range of most artworks is the coffee/sepia tone lending a feeling of nostalgia, as if these were prints of an unknown past on a parallel planet. Roth’s dialogue with his work perhaps is to come to some sort of understanding for a collective past he longs to reconcile with his present existence. A longing we can all understand and come to terms with through his work.
Roth’s work is evolving into a more geometric vein. Works like Enlightenment, Blue Water Petulance and Architectural/Plate 3 bring an uneven symmetry. Each of his latest works presents forms in groups of three, the most mystical of numbers.
Roth calls the new works ‘urban’ and ‘architectural’, yet most of them contain figurative elements, and their geometry consists of irregular, soft lines rather than the hard edges and angles we’ve come to expect when a work is described as ‘geometrical’.
Indeed, Enlightenment brings us perhaps the most primitive of all of Roth’s themes: the discovery of fire. An unholy trinity of human-like forms, all linked and in descending height, leer at the viewer while presenting their mastery over the element most responsible for humankind’s eventual urbanization. Architectural/Plate 3, on the other hand, displays three elongated forms, allowing the viewer even more leeway in interpretation. The work is more conceptual and decorative. Roth presents a new urban landscape, one, which is more humanized and brings contemporary man into community with the spirits of the past and of the human psyche.
All art is personal expression and Roth chose to live the ‘door ajar’ to give a clue as to what drove him to create a particular work, what he saw taking form during its creation. Yet the titles shouldn’t limit the viewers as to what they observe. While one can find Roth’s works aesthetically pleasing taken at the face value, there is a wealth of as yet unmined stories waiting to be discovered by those willing to make the effort beyond the ephemeral view. Just as people are shaped by their personal experiences, a Coffeegraph® will take on the shape of each viewer’s persona. The works are interactive, despite their seemingly fixed state.
There are those who may think the Coffeegraph® is a mere novelty. But it is truly an innovative, particularly evocative form of new art. Other artists, in varying degrees of success, have used coffee as a medium. Karen Eland uses coffee to paint copies of classic paintings, while Daniel Lorenzetti has used a coffee wash to tone his photographs of coffee workers.
The difference is that in Roth’s art, coffee isn’t a mere medium. Rather, it gives shape and color to a henceforth unknown, invisible world lurking just beneath the surface, leading the viewers’ souls into the collective unconscious to attain a deeper understanding of both self and mankind at large.Other Reviews