By Jess Kwiatkowski
PaLatte Coffe & Art is a cozy café located on Fulton St between Jefferson & La Grave in downtown Grand Rapids. The menu offers both traditional coffees and teas alongside specialty drinks and baked goods. Two alcoves with windows looking onto the street easily mark the most coveted spots in the café, but there’s plenty of room at tables and booths that congregate before the bar and run alongside it to the back.
PaLatte distinguishes itself from other coffee shops in its approach to presenting art. Michi Farias informed me that she and her parents, who own PaLatte, understand and sympathize with the struggle of contemporary artists. All three are talented artists who work with a vibrant array of mediums. Michi continued to say that PaLatte does have a certain standard for the art that is displayed, but it does not require artists to have graduated from an art school to display their work. The goal, she informed me, is to achieve a comfortable and accessible atmosphere. Art museums can be intimidating and rarely offer a view of local and contemporary artists’ works. The lovely aroma of coffee and sugared drinks, dark romantic colors in the floors and furniture surrounded by pale bluish walls mounted with artwork won me over instantly.
My first visit to PaLatte was for an art opening. I took in the art, tried to fathom the forms objectively and subjectively, and asked a lot of questions. The theme of the installation is “life.nature.death”, and this artwork will be displayed for about two months. The venue is quiet and unassuming from the outside, and coffee house art shows rarely receive much buzz compared to those of galleries.
Why not? Without any good reason not to learn more about local and contemporary talent, I decided to interview five of the artists showing and selling their work from within the modest walls of a coffee shop.
After reading these interviews, do consider taking in the view of these artists’ machinations in the form of their visual expressions at PaLatte, which is located at 150 Fulton St.; this installation runs 04/06/18-06/30/18.
Michi Farias – @michifariasart (instagram)
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am an American-Venezuelan artist who was raised by artists. I went to KCAD for three years but still consider myself self-taught because classes did not challenge me in the way I had hoped. I am an animal-rights activist, environmentalist and vegan. I am of the belief that an artist should stand and live according to what they preach in their work.
You have a great mastery of atmosphere in your work. “Alex & the Ghost” really struck me with its sense of haunting– the walls almost devoid of decoration, the curtains seem limp, and the character’s posture all coalesce into the title. How do you approach the creation of these scenes?
Alex is a very dear friend of mine and a talented musician. That morning, we were talking about ghosts and the feeling of being haunted by memories of people you just cannot shake off. I wanted to capture the feeling of loss and loneliness through the image of the empty chair that may have been filled by someone important to him once. When someone experiences loss, small things like where they used to sit become much more significant, and the memories linger in those places.
Your other pieces in this installation also seem to tell a story. You mentioned “title of that piece, please :D” is a portrait of your husband, but even “Cup of Light” conveys more than what the naked eye perceives. Where do these scenes come from?
I paint my husband, Jake, a lot! He is a big source of inspiration for me; he is also a musician. Sometimes I draw things based on the music he writes. “Cup of Light” in particular is both a study of how line and light work together. The cup itself is light itself, being drunk in a purifying manner. I like to think of it as a cleansing light, bringing someone out of the darkness of a moment. I suffer from severe anxiety in certain situations, so work like this is representative of healing meditation.
Do you have any prevailing themes within this installation and without your work at large?
My themes usually involve body positivity, feminism, anxiety, the environmental/ecological impacts humanity has on the planet, and the feelings of loss and longing after death.
Can you walk me through one piece from conception to execution? What’s something that’s deeply inspiring to you? What do you want to communicate through your art?
My piece, “Technicolor Daydream” (the 4×4’ at Palatte from my series “The Kinetic Venus”) begins with friendship. I draw inspiration from the people around me and only will draw/paint people I know and admire.
After telling me their story, they model for me. I set up tie-dye tapestries, candles, skulls, flowers, and lighting to capture my reference images during the session. This is where I use color, light, and mood in order to translate movement and emotion in the story I am trying to tell. Once the photo set is done, I pick my reference image from what will translate best into oil paint. From then, I print my reference image. I paint directly upon the canvas and capture my own version of my original image. Usually I try to improve upon the colors and abstract things like fruit and flowers as they come away from the focus of the composition. These paintings take me months to complete. The particular model for that piece was bullied for being “too thin” and was constantly accused of being anorexic and bulimic which takes on the other side of body positivity.
Is there anything you want people to know that I didn’t ask?
Art is time consuming and very hard to learn to do. It is mentally challenging—and yet somehow completely worth the pain. If you have money for art, support living artists– the dead ones don’t need the money.