art, Lara Antal, Bluebird Coffee Shop

cupping the funnies

smdlr:  You’re so many things. Can we start with your connection to Bluebird Coffee Shop?

Lara Antal: I worked at Bluebird for almost two years. Its beautiful, its intimate. As soon as you walk in you’re going to be with people.

s: Very true on all three of the above.  I feel like as soon as I walked in I was with your art.  Can we get right into that – how did this collaboration happen?

LA: I work part time as a freelance illustrator, which sort of evolved while at Bluebird, which is where I also got the idea to make a comic book on coffee.

My partner, Dave Kelly and I run So What? Press. We do a comic, its called ‘Tales of the Night Watchmqn,” and one of the heroes works at a coffee shop.  It all centers around that and together they solve relevant crimes.

One of our books – A Comic Guide to Brewing – Bluebird allowed me to sell it at their coffee shop. It’s been our best seller, its informational with a narrative that bridges the gap between non-comic readers. The owners of Bluebird and Tyson, the manager, really liked my work and said, “you need to get some art up on these walls.”

So the art started with a run of my work, which is LoveCraft LoveNotes, inspired by HP Lovecraft. I wanted to do something that exemplified him and love.

s: What a wonderful segway to doing more of what you love by bridging two things that you love coffee and comics. How did the correlation of the two propel your work?

LA: I know the questions customers ask, and the answers that baristas give and sometimes there’s a disconnect. There’s a lot of culture in coffee and sometimes you can’t give it all to the customer.  Sometimes a barista knows too much and can’t explain it succinctly.  While working at Bluebird, I could see people respond to the nuance of the comics right away, just like food and coffee.  And, it was so interesting to see someone who never picked up a comic, allow coffee to bring them into the fold.

s: I always find it amusing to see how coffee works as a gateway to culture.

LA: There’s something lovely about holding this little object in your hand  – and you get to connect with it.

s: Just like a cup of coffee.

s: Now that you are not only an artist exhibiting work at Bluebird, but its art curator, how do you facilitate the function of art there, given that it’s such an intimate space?

LA: It can be very busy there in the East Village, people come in and out and they also stay longer periods of time too. I think what’s on the wall, should be easy to digest and easy to take time with. I’ll be curating cartoonists to show work and all art would be prints for sale.

s: So, how is art important to a coffee shop?

LA: I’m a fan of having a choice in an experience. In a minimal coffee shop, you’re not meant to linger, it’s just your cup of coffee. Some coffee shops I go to the art is minimal, but I don’t go there regularly. Sometimes it’s an art installation that feels too involved and distracting, it needs to be balanced.

Personally, I’m eclectic, I like having images, and I love to enjoy them and to enjoy my coffee with them.  I think that speaks to the value of a total experience. I think art reaches out to a community it’s a whole different involvement; suddenly you’re able to have a conversation in a coffee shop that doesn’t have to do with coffee.

s: Indeed! Speaking of having a conversation, what is your ritual with coffee like?

LA: Coffee is so situational.

s: Yes! Yes! Yes!

LA: And, I’m definitely a multi-coffee taster.   I like to make coffee at home with a French press. My partner Dave does Chemex. At the studio I have a pour over. And, we habitually go to a local spot for a cappuccino.  But I do like to switch it up sometimes. Coffee is such an interesting beverage, every place in the world has their coffee, with different ways to make it and name it. You have to be open to how you’re going to experience it in different situations.

For me, a coffee at 5 a.m. waiting for Bolt Bus, or getting a bodega coffee to having a cortado in a glass at Café Grumpy are all different situations, which I’m sure quality is a part of it. But, I think there is room to appreciate different kinds of coffee.

s: And, might I add different kinds of culture.  What is coffee culture to you? And, do you see something particular in its future?

LA: Its level of sophistication is growing and spreading. When I was in high school there weren’t many good roasters like Colectivo in Milwaukee, where I’m from. I went home recently and it blew my mind. There’s great coffee and not just that but there’s culture. Stone Creek Coffee had a graphic designer do some work for them; Mr. T, David Bowie and the Grim Reaper were all illustrated on the bag.

Suddenly, its like coffee companies have bags where graphic designers have helped them. There’s this hub now of people helping a brand and coffee shops are packed. Aside from the customer becoming more sophisticated, as well as the purveyor, coffee culture is becoming more interdisciplinary.

s: As our conversation ends, Antal interjects one last thing.

LA: Oh, do you want to know the coffees I’m currently working with; Café Grumpy, La Cima from El Salvador – its delicious and a bag from Joe Prop Shop – a Burundi via The Barn in Berlin.

s: Sounds like a double discipline.

For more of Ms. Antal’s work, and accompanied by partner Dave Kelly visit here.