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Avi Roth and Downtown L.A.'s Coffee Counter-Culture

Downtown Los Angeles is a mini metropolitan universe in itself, and within this universe, coffee is king. The Arts District of Downtown L.A. has now become the hub for the coffee elite. With three major coffee roasters -- Stumptown, Handsome and Urth -- and a plethora of coffee shops, both independent and corporate, this downtown area is quickly becoming a coffee culture destination. But the coffee culture doesn't just stop at roasters and a good cup of joe, it has bled into many aspects of downtown life, including the fine art scene.

Artist Avi Roth, an internationally recognized artist, a graduate of the London Film School and well known jewelry and fashion photographer was drawn to coffee as a medium for his latest and most intriguing body of work yet, Coffeegraph. Think Tank Gallery in downtown L.A. has teamed up with Roth to explore his fascinating new obsession.

"The craft roasters expansion into Downtown L.A. is contributing to the creative renaissance of the city," says Roth. "Just as in previous centuries, when cultural and social centers were dominated by cafes and coffeehouses, L.A.'s coffee culture is reclaiming a historical role within the public sphere and is becoming a leading factor to a movement that gives rise to changes in ways art is thought of, viewed and consumed."

Think Tank Coffee Bar
Think Tank Coffee Bar

Though Think Tank Gallery is slightly off the beaten path, this large warehouse gallery space has hosted a number of provocative events and exhibitions over the course of the past three years. This month, with Coffeegraph, Think Tank is exhibiting a large show of artwork by Avi Roth, entirely based on coffee, both as material and as concept.
Roth views coffee not only as a social adhesive but also as a timeless expression of society. His Coffeegraph work exists as a study and expression of the internal journey, back to the basic and fundamentally human sense of community.

Walking into the gallery space, dozens of gorgeous, large-scale abstract 2-D works are hung and delicately lit on the white walls. The scent of strong coffee fills the space and the energy of the caffeine and the socially-charged love of coffee are nearly palpable. Think Tank has even built out a coffee shack inside the gallery, to further the social study of the Coffeegraph, and where visitors can get bottomless coffee (with a coffee pass) throughout the duration of the Coffeegraph month. Visitors can also partake in coffee and espresso tastings, signature events, concerts and complementary grilled cheese sandwiches in the Think Tank Speakeasy.

Avi Roth at the Think Tank Speakeasy
Avi Roth at the Think Tank Speakeasy

Roth spent six years experimenting with this innovative process and interesting materials, he tried orange juice, liquor, tomato paste and many other natural material options, but it was coffee that not only held the perfect artistic qualities but also the perfect conceptual consistency as well. Roth roasts, grinds and processes his own organic coffee beans into effective grinds and pigments which he applies to a solid and porous surface like a porcelain plate or slab, without a binder. He uses many different traditional techniques to achieve his particular styles and looks for these pieces--though without using any traditional art tools like brushes--including staining, layering and water burning. The plated creations are then converted into digital images, and then reproduced into limited impressions by various printing methods. His instinctual process guides him through the Coffeegraph creations as he explores each individual grind, palate and layer of his coffee until it tells him it's finished. Reminiscent of Michelangelo 's famous quote, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free," Roth lets the coffee dictate the story it tells, the composition I needs and the direction it wants. The end result is a beautiful abstract creation that recalls blood, sweat and tears.

When you meet him, his likeness to the modern art greats like Pollock and Rothko is surprisingly evident and comforting; but, his mellow yet keenly awake insight seems eerie and ominous. Roth occasionally pulls from personal and cultural inspiration. As he was raised in Israel, some of his works reference a Jewish heritage and lineage, but the majority of the pieces seem to circle around Roth's real obsession, people. "As to why I was given the privilege to disseminate this art, I can only speculate," Roth says. "It could be because I am a people-centered, forward looking person who has expressed and illuminated the colors of mankind for many decades, with readiness to explore new directions."

Many artists throughout history have utilized coffee in their art--Karen Eland, Daneil Lorenzetti, Ed Ruscha--though Avi Roth seems to be the most coffee-centric artist using coffee as an art material to date. Though we consume coffee on a regular basis, Avi Roth implores us to consider coffee as more than just a caffeine fix, and visually entices us to recall coffee as a community builder, an expression of thought and as creative inspiration. Think Tank is exhibiting both the original plates and coffee creations and the limited edition large-scale prints during the Coffeegraph celebration.


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