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Painting with coffee leads Knoxville artist to reconnect with family history

Published: Apr. 19, 2016 at 11:52 PM EDT
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Some might consider painting with coffee somewhat of a gimmick, but a Knoxville artist will show you something much deeper is happening when his brush paints the canvas.

It may be that the best way to start a story, is the same way you start your day.

"I'm addicted to coffee, and I love coffee," said Michael Aaron Williams.

Williams is a Knoxville native who uses coffee instead of paint to create his portraits, and his story will fill more than just the first cup of the day.

"I'm a really cheap person in general. So in college, coffee was cheaper than paints," he explained with a laugh.

With every stroke of his brush, Williams is bringing is portraits to life. He creates portraits of women, children, and animals. But he'll admit, the portraits of women typically have a common thread.

"The hair usually turns out to be my wife's hair because I love her hair," he said.

Williams tends toward creating portraits because he says it's an art that allows the viewer to connect with what he's created. Despite calling them Frankensteins because he takes pieces of different pictures and faces and compiles them into his final piece, Frankenstein might be the last name that pops into one's mind when you see his work.

But his work requires a second look, a look at what's behind the face on the canvas. In fact, it's the canvas itself that is helping bring the work of art to life.

"This is all handwriting from my great, great grandparents, and I have similar handwriting," Williams said.

He's talking about the paper he found about four years ago while he was rummaging through his ancestors boarded up, run down, all-but-forgotten family store. The store was once a bustling hub of business in rural Lee County, Virginia, but has fallen to ruins over the past several decades. The paper his great, great grandparents used to track their sales has since browned and faded, but still has legible scripts from more than 100 years ago.

For Williams, the canvas is the perfect place for his art to come to life, and for him to connect on a personal level with family he never knew.

"I found the paper in my great, great grandparents rural Appalachian store, and I was just amazed by the context of all this. These are my great grandparents writings. They kind of started the piece, and generations later I found. I guess I'm completing the work. So in my mind, the work was started by them, now I'm finishing it," Williams explained.

Williams sells and shows his artwork across the world. To see more of his work, you can visit his website by clicking the link in the box.

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