art:. Eric Tai, Brew Well, Los Angeles, CA

drinking coffee the artistic way

If he’s telling the truth, which he does, he’s not a coffee drinker.  But like foxes have dens, art has coffee.  I talk with Eric; a graphic designer who’s T-shirt was the bait landed him an art exhibition at L.A.’s Brew Well.

smdlr: Your work at Brew Well is so captivating.  I want to start with asking, “who are you?”

Eric Tai: I’m a student in seminary school. But, I also work as a graphic designer in the art department.  I do typography but it’s a little different. I just kind of like handwriting stuff for more or less. And, I like photography; I like capturing moments. I consider it all a journey.

smdlr: What is the it?

E.T. It is the capturing of moments.

smdlr: I love a moment. And when you take a photo, you can look back and see yourself and who you were were in the moment even though there isn’t a photo of you.

E.T. Yes. It’s a visual encyclopedia of culture. It’s where the world is at the moment. That’s how I consider Youtube. I have a love hate relationship with it. But, it’s really encyclopedic; it’s one of those moments in history right now where the people that use it define culture.

smdlr: I feel the same with coffee culture, it’s as much defined by the people inhabiting it and that are apart of it. Tell me about you and Brew Well.

E.T. I’m going to tell you the full story but I don’t want to embarrass anyone. I work at a school.  A girl was coming into the office regularly. I hadn’t spoken to her before, but one day, she was like hey it’s a cool shirt you have on, can I have it? And, I said, “I’m at work,” She’s one of the baristas at Brew Well and she got me the sweet gig of showing my work there.

smdlr: Charming! Did you ever give her your shirt?

E.T. I have yet to give her my shirt. He laughs.

smdlr: So, do you drink coffee?

E.T. My fondest memory of coffee was in college. It came from a tin can, and I boiled it in my camping pot which was just sheet metal rounded to resemble a pan.  But, I enjoyed drinking that stale terrible coffee.  And, I still drink coffee; I appreciate it, but I’m not terribly in love with it.

I laugh.

smdlr: I’m curious now. What was on your shirt?

E.T. I was wearing crazy prints for whatever reason. There were little foxes so that could have been it.

smdlr: I see. So, lets talk about your art that has brought us all here.

E.T. It comes in various forms. I think that might be really reflective of my character in general. There’s the ‘Focus’ piece, its menial and tedious. I didn’t have any idea about it, which is why I wrote the word focus over and over.

smdlr: It drew me in for the geometrics of it and for the subconscious text.

E.T. I sit in classes a lot and I try to doodle or do something that keeps my brain waves moving in a human way that’s not a zombie. Menial things are almost my favorite form of art.  ‘Focus’ required a lot of skill and craft and I’m getting better at making dots.  I consider it all a journey.

smdlr: I do too.  So take me to the next stop. There are metal objects, physical tactile pieces here too.

E.T. The owners were fairly compliant about what I did even if it meant putting holes in the walls.  With metal, you’re dealing with heavier objects and you can’t do it physically on your own, you need a team of people to help you and that journey becomes a communal experience it’s a little more rare but it happens.

There’s also an observational aspect where you look at what you’re doing and the tactile aspects of the work too. With sculpture, I just start working and it’s a physical extension of the body, a lot of the sculptures I didn’t think about, they just come and it’s really emotional.

smdlr: How did you know what to put into the space for an exhibition?

E.T. Art is a journey; it’s a process, the landscape and the space.  I don’t think anything is really static in life. So I worked with the parameters given which alters what an exhibit looks like.

The coffee bean piece I made, that piece was exclusive to the space. As far as the placement of fishes on the wall, wherever the darts landed is where the fishes went.

smdlr: I love it! How organic! And, I love the relinquishing of control to create order: that’s art.

E.T. When I was younger I questioned what art was, what was beauty – the good, the bad, the beautiful. Its not the good, the bad and the ugly. When you think of yourself as created in the image of god we are infinitely beautiful.

smdlr: Indeed! Can you talk about beauty and happiness and being happy from where one is?

E.T. It’s how you’re perfected by your imperfections and what your life is like. My life has been perfected by imperfections.  I was working on a piece, dropped my pencil and then it drew a whole line through it, but it evolved it. My pieces are often still growing, but at the same time, they are also still done.

smdlr: How does exhibiting art in a coffee shop affect you?

E.T. I consider it renegade romanticism. You’re putting art in a place that people don’t expect. You go to a café and here it is, art right there for you. You don’t have a choice; you’re forced to look at it. In that sense its renegade. But going to a café is romantic, it’s really communal, it’s a museum. There are people all around you with beautiful lives and you’d never know it.  There’s so much color just waiting to unfold.

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