The Crown seeks to give exposure to local and international artists through The Crown Gallery, and hosts new artists each quarter. The Crown Gallery is currently accepting submissions for the first quarter of 2021, and is seeking artists who approach issues related to environmental sustainability, intersectionality, the City of Oakland, and of course, coffee.
As curator and Creative Director here at The Crown, I’ve decided to do a series of interviews with our artists so that everyone can hear what inspires them. The coffee industry is comprised of people with multifarious passions, and during my time as a coffee professional I have encountered people steeped in disciplines as disparate as music composition and astrophysics. It only seems fair to give time to one group I have met most frequently in the coffee industry: visual artists. So join us for an exploration of the natural world, Bay Area culture, and our favorite beverage with the resident artists at The Crown Gallery.
I met Demart Denaro through coffee industry; one fine day in 2012 Demart walked into the training lab at Blue Bottle’s Webster Street location, and I had the pleasure of training someone who was already very well versed in the ways of coffee. Over the years, I’ve seen Demart tackle so many different projects – from collaborations with Catracha Coffee Project and Mayra Orellana-Powell to seeing him move on to being a barista trainer in his own right at Red Bay. One thing that has always remained the same is his calming presence and his ability to make everyone around him feel good in the moment.
Approaching Demart with the opportunity to show his work at The Crown was something I had wanted to do since day one. Hearing that he wanted to make art specifically to show at The Crown was just the icing on the cake. Keba Konte from Red Bay came to help set up and take photos, and the opening night for Demart’s show was one of the liveliest on record!
Demart’s contribution to The Crown Gallery is a testament to the cross pollination and branching of the Bay Area coffee community. Read on to learn more about what influences him, and the part that coffee plays in his art.
EG: When did you start making art? Was there a first medium you fell in love with?
DD: Just drawing, as a kid. Doodling. At 11 years old I got accepted into an accelerated art class in my public school. I had kind of just applied as a joke because I enjoyed drawing from my own imagination, but I got in.
At the end of the year we had a whole show. The students bring their friends and family, and it’s a show of all their work. Mine was a bunch of unfinished projects and stuff, but the one clear thing I remember is my dad saying “This art sucks.” And I was only 11!
I think it affected my work more than I realized, but I used that experience to apply to UC Berkeley as an art major. That was my opening statement for my letter of intent: “When I was 12 my father told me that my art sucked.” Ever since that I still created in middle school and high school, taking mandatory art classes. The art teachers were always encouraging, but I always had a heavier judgement towards my own work.
My father was just real with me; my dad feels regretful about saying that to this day, but for me, on the flip side, I appreciate it. Because for me it’s more about proving to myself that I can do it. In the most ironic way, me as a kid making art in that class out of sheer laziness, I would say “eh, I’m done with that piece, I don’t need to go back to it.” So my dad saw that and was able to call me out on it. It was tough love in a way, and that was my energy in life growing up as well.
EG: Getting into the flow of making art is a very specific feeling. Can you describe the feeling you get when you have creative inspiration?
DD: I consider myself as an artist with many disciplines and mediums, even including different crafts like coffee. It is relative to the medium or discipline, but I really have been into processes that are focused on intuition. For example for this work in the show, the intuition goes into the initial background of the image. As I’m grinding the ink stick on the stone to create the black ink, I would perform my own kind of meditation and feeling where I’m at. Then I would just release that onto the canvas, or paper. And that would settle and dry. From there, just by chance many variables would appear as an extension of what I was feeling and then images would arise from that.
In an analogy to coffee and nature, I’m just releasing the seeds, throwing them, and seeing what grows up. But also, I’ve had paintings that I don’t even touch afterwards, that I don’t need to do anything else to. That can be analogous to some seeds thriving depending on the soil, climate, or environment. Nature is more of an influence in my art – maybe for everyone, on an unconscious level.
Any time I draw it’s a stream of consciousness, like automatic writing. I’ll notice at times when I’m afraid to make a mark. I’ll say to myself “I don’t know how to draw wolves, or trees..” so I’ll just draw half of a tree! So it’s ironic. My abstractions interplay with my emotions, it’s this dream I can never complete because I’m just too afraid to mess it up.
EG: Does coffee influence your art or the way you make it?
DD: Long silence… Yes. (laughs) I think that for all of these pieces, on a more logical level, I’ve at least had coffee in my system before making any of these. Do you drink coffee every day?
EG: Oh yes, around five cups a day.
DD: Same, it gives me this weird thing where I don’t even realize what I’m doing. Have you read The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan? It gives this twist of the narrative where maybe it’s plants that are controlling us, and he talks about five main plants, but not coffee. I wanted to hit him up and let him know that he should add coffee to that book! Editor’s note: Michael Pollan does have a new book about just that: Caffeine: How coffee and tea created the modern world
EG: Cafes have been central to many art movements; what are your favorite cafes in the Bay Area that function as meeting places for artists?
DD: That’s a good one. Well, definitely Red Bay, and I’d have to say The Crown. Those are the two that have been the driving force for me, at least my personal experience. It might be sad to say, but I love it all. Any place that really cultivates a transparent and welcoming atmosphere. Maybe you can relate this, too: once you’ve been in coffee for a long while, almost anywhere you go for coffee it just feels like family because the community is just so fast. Walking into Sight Glass, Blue Bottle, and Ritual… walking into Ritual my first time in San Francisco, I said “woah, this place is so grungy and cool!” As an insecure kid growing up I felt intimidated, I thought “dang, these are the cool kids – I want to be like them.”
EG: Me too. Even though I was a barista at the time, my first time in San Francisco I went to Ritual and the people behind the bar were really nice. Maybe they saw I was a coffee person, the way I ordered my drink or something, but they recognized it!
DD: It’s this weird fight club mentality, and maybe that’s the coffee speaking.. but you can just walk in. But my favorite cafes are still the ones that were in that wave that was the rise of specialty. We all kind of branched out into our coffee family tree, but we’re all still connected to coffee. We all love it.
EG: Do you have any current projects you’re working on that you’re particularly excited about?
DD: Yes. The short term one is going back to Honduras to work on more art education and exchange. We’ll try to do at least one mural with this artist, Demmys, who is in San Pedro Sula. But he’s been living in Santa Elena for the last 8 months now, just teaching kids and doing art. He just did a natural pigments course, painting with things you can find in the natural world.
But I’m also into climbing. With coffee, which has been around for many years, we’re just now doing these new processing methods and roasting methods? It’s very similar to climbing. I can be kind of like a one-noted thing. There’s not much creativity or expressions of climbing in an artistic or visual way – films or photography. I just want to push climbing into another realm, and what it means to me on a personal level as an exploration of climbing as a visual art. I’m actually taking a huge pause on drawing, and just focusing on climbing right now.
EG: What was the best part about showing at The Crown?
DD: The best part was the opening reception, just seeing the community and the power of getting so many people involved. The more people involved the bigger and richer the community. The whole process was great. I wanted to make a show that was completely new work dedicated to the space of The Crown. And to take it even further, I’ve always struggled with how to combine visual art with coffee, beyond just a literal way of making visuals of the plant itself. Not to say that drawing coffee plants is not beautiful, but just taking it to a different perspective. Figuring out my relationship with myself as an artist while also being a coffee professional, and how those interplay. I want to use this opportunity to activate that more.
EG: Your work looks at some pretty fascinating concepts like hybridization and world of the mind – can you talk a little bit more about your thought process behind making this work?
DD: These concepts are sort of a vehicle for healing and for growth. I think because I had that struggle with combining art and coffee, it parallels my existence in my struggles growing up and becoming Demart. Not just culturally but in my blood, being split between Japanese and Italian American and dealing with my parents not having such a good relationship.. but being a part of this societally known cult… it’s a back and forth of polarizing emotions and also environments.
By the time I graduated high school, I had lived in more than 20 different houses. And so I was used to moving, to pollinating in other places. People can look at that as a sad thing or a negative thing, but to me it’s enriched my life in a way. I have been exposed to many different cultures, but in some ways it can be overwhelming or confusing. There are universal connections that between us all that go beyond language, beyond culture, beyond race and all these things, and we all dream. Just by connecting with someone from one culture to another we are hybridizing. I think there’s all these unknown and unconscious dual relationships at play. My thought process is very layered in this way, so I appreciated coffee being this earthly and grounding thing to focus on as a body of work.
EG: Coffee features strongly in your work; I even met you through coffee. What do you feel is the future of the coffee plant?
DD: That’s a huge question. I was just drinking some coffee from Black and White from North Carolina, these carbonically macerated coffees. Sasa Sestic started this infatuation with carbonic maceration, and look what it has done! Our whole industry is driven by people who just do something wild and exciting like that and it just takes off. We also just tried the Mama Mochas Alabama Snakes Jack Daniels treated coffee. She did a full city or dark roast and it’s ridiculous! The future of coffee is kind of scary. Have you read Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari? I’ll never forget one of his quotes at the end of the book. “The fear is more that we don’t know what we want to want.” What do we want from coffee? We’re in this dual relationship with coffee where we’re hybridizing robusta and arabica together, and I got that knowledge from The Crown. You brought this guy from World Coffee Research in (Greg Meenahan) and he talked about their F1 hybrid. And that made me think about art as another form of research of hybridization; what does hybridizing do? Coffee is trying to work with us, but is it also controlling us? It’s that dual interplay as well, but the future of coffee… the sky’s the limit! Maybe there’s going to be coffee on Mars!
EG: How did you get into inkwork/tattooing? It seems like there’s a pretty steep learning curve there!
DD: It’s interesting that people think there is a steep learning curve. A lot of people just have this fear, I think. Not to call it out, but I think the tattoo industry can be a fear driven industry. It’s got such a reputation of being gang related or all these things, but that’s just if you’re in this particular box. In a different country or different culture, maybe everyone is doing it. For me, I got into tattooing because I was never exposed to it in the Moonie church, in a conservative and Christian environment. None of my friends were into tattoos, but when I finally went to community college I met one woman, Natasha, who’s a pretty well known tattoo artist in the Bay Area. She was the first tattoo artist that I ever met, and she gave me my first tattoo as well. She would never want me to say I was an apprentice to her, but every time I got an opportunity I would ask all these questions about tattooing.
Technology has changed tattooing so much. Not only the tattoo gun, which used to use magnets, but also social media really changed the game for everyone. Thanks to the internet I could look up tutorials and become a ‘scratcher’ – like a hobbyist of the craft – but not be considered professional. It’s great to see the rise of the female tattoo artist. It’s been around for 10s of thousands of years, and in some cultures it has been women who have been doing it the longest. Who’s to say that tattooing is a strictly male art?
Why I’m connected to tattooing is for a way to connect to different cultures. So Natasha was the first one to expose me to it. I just bought a starter kit and just started practicing on my own legs! Nothing is permanent, you can just go over your old work. There’s this woman tattooing white over black for example, and it’s just pushing the boundaries of tattooing as fine art.
EG: Do you have a particular place on earth you get power from?
DD: Definitely the Bay Area. It’s where I set my roots. But I have a housemate who says “Demart, you’re like driftwood – you have no roots, you just float from one place to the next!” And I thought “wow, you’re so right.” To me, these housemates are like family. They’ve offered me space with open arms; I live there because I feel super comfortable with them. I spend more time with them than I do with my actual family!
EG: Anyone you want to shout out?
DD: Definitely Jared Warren. And my parents. And then everyone who got the tattoos: Jessie, Jennifer, Hana, Mayra, and Alicia. And also Mayra, who I wasn’t able to get a photo of! And Evan Gilman, he’s the one making this happen. Without him none of this would exist!