I had the honour to meet a great artist and, above all, a great person. Maria Aristidou is a commercial artist from Larnaca, Cyprus. Her work went viral because of her own distinctive technique: using coffee as her medium. Maria studied BA Fine Art Printmaking at the Manchester Metropolitan University, and completed her postgraduate degree in Arts Health at the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom. Maria is interested in pop culture phenomena and trends and most of her pieces are influenced by movie characters and science fiction, which makes her work even more intriguing. Enjoy her words in our tete-a-tete.
- What do you think contemporary art really is?
Contemporary art is something very personal and open. It is the opportunity of an artist to express his or her feelings so broadly using any type of medium. The exciting part of contemporary art is that it has no limits. A person that never had an experience with artistic knowledge has the opportunity to interact with any medium and create art. So contemporary art opens its doors to everyone. Contemporary art is the new world we live in. For me, the media is the new distinctive form of art. We are not depending on galleries and agents anymore. From a personal perspective – I am not implying that this is absolute – contemporary art gives the opportunity to everyone to create something masterly, creatively and cleverly and consequently, to be successful from it. It’s the evolution of the history of art.
- Where do you place yourself in the “art arena” – are you conceptual?
I was given the label of a commercial artist. So, I am a commercial artist. I do love marketing and the fact that I am commercial does not necessarily mean that I don’t belong under the umbrella of the “visual artists”. I do work with concepts if I am asked to. I am drawn into teamwork, into communicating with other artists and customers. I became known due to my concept technique, which is coffee, and I think that this is a concept itself.
- I completely agree with you. How did the coffee technique emerge?
It all started in February 2015. It was completely accidental. I was painting using watercolours, and suddenly coffee poured on my paper and when I saw the effect of coffee on my paper I said “why not?”. From that day onwards, I started experimenting using coffee as my medium. I used different coffee brands and blends. I realised that if I worked with different blends, the colour effect was altering. Subsequently, the technique I have today came out of this process of experimentation. Every coffee has a different colour effect. The Greek coffee has a very interesting effect; it is between grey and sepia. I cannot really explain it.
- Is there another ‘unconventional’ medium you would like to explore in the future?
Yes. Tea will be my next attempt.
- Do you think tea will have the same effect?
I haven’t worked with tea as my medium yet. I do have some thoughts how the effect will turn. For instance, I presume that tea will be much lighter and smoother than coffee. You can use anything that extracts colour as your medium. It is up to the artist to use those colours to make up an unconventional technique. Even ketchup would do.
- When you create, do you instantly create or do you have a specific procedure you follow?
There is a procedure. I need to observe the picture that I am painting. I have to start painting the light areas and then proceed to the bolder ones. The tricky part of coffee is that as soon as you start painting there is no way back. You cannot erase anything. So every time I start painting with coffee I am a bit restrained and then I go crazy (laughter). I start splashing, throwing and lose myself in my painting.
- Are you a coffee lover?
I am indeed!
- So basically, one day while you were painting, your coffee was poured accidentally and that was it, you went viral as a coffee artist.
Exactly. The funny part of the entire story is that the coffee that was spilled that day is not the coffee I am using today to create my pieces. I spilled my latte. I always drink latte! But now, I am not using latte as a medium. You know milk is a bit risky so I’d rather use coffee. Plain coffee. But no sugar (laughter).
- What is so special about coffee compared to other materials?
Coffee is a material that can destroy your brush easily. With other materials, if you clean it properly you can go on with the same brush for years. But with coffee, it’s completely different. Coffee can wear your brush easily. Perhaps, coffee is what draws me into a painting. Coffee gives me that vibe of roughness and toughness. Perhaps it is the entire concept of coffee. I cannot explain it. When I use watercolours the essence I get is not the same. Watercolours reflect a smoothness. It is something nice, neat and perfect. But with coffee, I can express who I really am. I simply go crazy and wild about it. It is okay to be messy with it! Perhaps it is something personal. The addictive element of caffeine probably makes me more passionate about it. I could say there is a psychological implication to it. I will never forget the day I started experimenting with coffee. It was a turning point on my own career. I can still remember one day I was asked to do a coffee portrait of Einstein and Churchill. With Churchill it was an entire different story, I was so delicate about him. But with Einstein, I went crazy. Probably, the ambiance of each personality I am painting is what alters my technique and the level of roughness I use. So I need to relate and draw with the characters I am painting.
- What is truly your source of inspiration?
My source of inspiration is social media and pop culture. Movies, celebrities, not the Kardashians though. Something that questions my mind. When I did the Star Wars series, you have to bear in mind that I am not a fanatic compared to the fanatics. What made me completely fanatical about Star Wars is the thought behind the characters, that sort of personality building process. The team, the product design, the marketing behind that character. The background story of each character is my true source of inspiration. For instance, Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland diachronically, have had a project plan, a thought behind every character and that is what excites me when I am working.
- Do you think its important for a painting to be aesthetically nice?
It is important. But I do believe that balance is the key. What is “aesthetically nice” is up to the material you are using, the concept you are deploying and most importantly how masterly an artist delivers it into a paper or canvas. Being decorative is not what makes a piece aesthetically nice.
- What are your plans in the future? Is there something that the public should not miss?
My mind is always travelling. I am working on cakes right now. I do have dreams and ideas about what I want to do in the future but I am not sure because things change all the time. The only thing that I can define as a plan is that I want to be stable. Stable not in terms of being situated in a routine. I like messiness that will help me evolve as an artist.
- As a young artist what is your advice to those that aspire to be part of the “art world?”
Just go crazy. What you do, do it perfectly and masterly. I am quoting Walt Disney: “whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” This is my advice. And most importantly love yourself.