Coffee Painting Artist-Poet Larry Abreño draws inspiration during lockdown in New Zealand

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Larry Abreño Coffee Painting
Overseas Filipino Larry Abreño turned even more prolific with his coffee paintings while under lockdown. Photo from Larry Abreño.

We both were teaching at the same campus in Miriam College. He was with the high school department while I was in the college unit. We’ve never met, until one day my daughter Jess, who was organizing Pecha Kucha in Hamilton said that her high school teacher would be presenting his coffee painting artworks.

That night I met the most engaging and creative person I’ve ever known. He travelled together with his flatmates, the 1 ½ hour’s drive from Auckland, to share his talent and artistry in using coffee as a medium to paint on paper, wood, and canvas. That was how I first met teacher Larry Abreño.

Through the years I’ve watched and seen him grow as a poet and coffee painting artist. It’s amazing how he can create art from the things around him: a picture, another painting, memories, etc.

His recognition as a coffee painter/artist has transcended from the Filipino community into the Chinese community when he was invited to exhibit his paintings at Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple in Auckland. The monks were so impressed with him, that they invited him to also exhibit in their Christchurch temple.

Some of his coffee paintings are also found in cafes in Botany, Howick, and the North Shore. He has sold some of his paintings and others have commissioned him to do one.

Some of Larry Abreño’s coffee painting art. Photo from Larry Abreño.

In my Ekwento Mo vlog he makes it look all so simple. He said the process is always the same whether on paper, wood, or canvas. “Always start with a sketch, which is actually the hardest part. Once that’s done all you need is coffee and water, mix it up, and apply it in whatever manner you want, working on light and dark tones.”

He bought a coffee grinder during his trip to Vietnam last December. That helps him in having a steady supply of coffee.

“I wasn’t a coffee person before but the aroma of the coffee while painting is so addictive. I also like the classic monochromatic effect of coffee that always brought me back to olden times. At the same time, coffee is eco-friendly and easy to find and affordable.”

However, he pointed out that 3-in-1 coffee is not good because there’s milk or cream added already. He said, “it takes 2-4 hours to finish a coffee painting on an A4 size paper depending on how complicated the subject is.” I do see a lot of spiritual themes in his coffee paintings perhaps because he is an ex-seminarian.

Larry is not only a coffee painter/artist. He is also a poet. His first book of poems “Crumbs from the Heart” was published in 2018 and I had the privilege to emcee that book launching at the Pakuranga library, in Auckland. It was a cold, rainy, nearly wintry night when a group of around 50 Filipino-Kiwis huddled in the library as we listened to people reading selected pieces of his poetry. The reading warmed our collective hearts that night.

He has accumulated a good number of coffee paintings during New Zealand’s 4-week lock-down. “This lockdown period has enabled me to paint more to express myself and to keep myself sane during this lock-down period,” he concluded.

And in recognition of the decisive leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to stop the spread of Covid-19, he is inspired to do a coffee painting portrait of her. Now that would be another story.

Another Filipino-Kiwi, Gerry de Leon, has continued his music mission to his neighborhood while under lockdown.

The first KiwiNoy member of the House of Parliament Paulo Garcia has made Filipinos proud by speaking in Filipino and championing Filipino food and culture.

SEND CHEERS in the comments below to Larry Abreño for showcasing his creativity even during lockdown in New Zealand.

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Rene Nonoy Molina
Direk Rene Nonoy Molina is a Kiwinoy (Filipino-Kiwi) filmmaker and contentpreneur. His passion revolves around media literacy, history, political science, agribusiness, food, geography, and spirituality. He has taught in high school and college in the Philippines and Aotearoa New Zealand. He feels energized with his present students who have intellectual and learning disabilities. He plans to continue nurturing, travelling and discovering Mother Earth once this Covid-19 war is over.