By Kristen Gehrman
WHERE LOCAL ARTIST REYNIER Llanes grew up, the cultural importance of coffee has little to do with drive-through or to-go cups. In his home of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, freshly roasted coffee has always been the central focus of an unhurried way of life, bringing families together for hours at a time.
“On Sundays, when I was a kid, my whole family would come over and spend the entire day around thecoffee pot,” Llanes reminisced. “We told old stories and really listened to each other. This is how wereserved our heritage.” Even though Llanes now lives far from his family, coffee and old family stories restill an integral part of his life and art. An artist-in-residence of renowned local painter Jonathan Green, Llanes has been recognized throughout the Southeast for his coffee paintings, intimate works on paperpainted exclusively with Cuban roasted coffee. “People don’t always believe me when I tell them that ypaintings are all coffee, but it’s true,” Llanes explained. “You can’t get these sienna colors from acrylics.”
Llanes’ painting process is similar to watercolor. He prepares his palette by roasting different kinds ofCuban coffee that his mother sends him from home. The rich shade of brown he produces depends on the color of the bean and how much water is in the pot. Drawing on his fine art background in oil and acrylic painting, Llanes composes nostalgic scenes of family and farm life that seem familiar but at the same time surreal. His subjects appear wise, bearing expressions that toy with the viewer’s imagination: a man gazing into a coffee cup at his own reflection; a weary cigar roller with striking eyes; a boy playing with a butterfly as his father fixes the car. “When I drink the coffee as I paint, the stories flood back tome. People can approach the stories in my work any way they like,” said Llanes. “They are living paintings. Even though they come from my heritage, they represent stories within all of us.” Llanes wasdiscovered by Jonathan Green after immigrating to Naples, Fla., in 2007. He had attended the Federico Engels School of Art Instructors in Havana and had taught art in Cuba for two years. However, despite is educated background and deep connection to his homeland, there was little opportunity to pursue hisart in Cuba. “Being an immigrant, I have suffered from being far from my family. I know that I will notmove back, but still my paintings are about passing my heritage down to future generations,” Llanes explained. “Jonathan Green and I are similar in that way. He is from the Gullah culture, and I from theAfrican diaspora, but we both paint our heritage with positive memories and a sense of ‘tranquillo.’” Llanes currently works out of his West Ashley studio. He recently received the 2011 MOJA Arts Festival Juried Exhibition Award, and the Myrtle Beach Art Museum purchased some of his work for its permanent collection.
With one year left in his three-year residency with Green, he plans to continue with his signature coffee paintings and also develop his acrylic and oil painting skills. To view more of Llanes’ work, visit www.reynierllanes.com