Coffee is a remarkable substance — we recently encountered it ground into LEGOs and even powering cars — and now Malaysian artist Hong Yi has made deft use of the beverage and its otherwise pesky capacity to stain in her exceptional portrait of musician Jay Chou. Completed in just 12 hours on Valentines Day, the artist used saucers of coffee as ink applied to her canvas with the base of a coffee cup.
The 26 year old artist, who is also known as RED, drew inspiration for the portrait from one of the Chou’s songs, “Secret” (Bu Neng Shuo De Mi Mi). While her use of coffee is drawn as a literal reference from the opening lines of the song, the tones it created proved apt to the song’s nostalgic narrative. The singer tells a tale of heartbreak about a lost romance with a time-traveling girl from 1979. Hong Yi describes her portrait’s earthy, imperfect details as suggestive of a sepia toned photograph, and the circles from which the subject’s form is defined as broken and imperfect “like falling autumn leaves”.
Hong Yi first caught the public eye with two equally extraordinary art works in which she drew inspiration for her choice of materials from the subject of the portrait. In her awesome representation of NBA player Yao Ming, she challenged herself to apply bright red paint to paper with the use of a basketball with extraordinarily precise results. In her portrait of artist Ai Wei Wei, she constructed a large scale representation of his likeness from sunflower seeds, in reference to Ai’s own art.
As for this most recent portrait, Hong Yi discovered that coffee does have its complexities as a medium — if the coffee is too concentrated, it was too dark and hard to manipulate, but when too weak, the rings would not form at all.