Albanian artist David Kryemadhi douses his brush with coffee and carefully sketches the face of a cafe customer, hoping the offer of a free portrait will bring cheer amid the anxiety of the pandemic.
Many Albanians regard cafes as a vital institution and punctuate most days with caffeinated outings – the country of 2.8 million reputedly has one of the highest numbers of cafes in the world per head of population.
“Art and coffee help a lot of people,” Kryemadhi said in the seaside city of Durres.
“The moment of calm and reflection while painting a portrait helps the other person gain self-confidence and see the world with a positive synergy, a more open eye.”
Kryemadhi uses coffee like watercolour paints, composing portraits with a rich, brown patina – adding water to create different shades.
In the cafes of Albania, he has found a natural setting for his brand of art therapy.
To find subjects to paint, he strikes up conversations with customers before offering a free portrait.
“It did me so much good,” said student Alexsandra while waiting for her portrait to dry.
“I find in this painting all my emotions, my torments, my thoughts.”
Eva Allushi from the University of Durres explains that cafes in Albania are “an essential form of social life” where people feel free to express themselves.
“The novelty in David’s art is the fact that he builds bridges with his fellow travellers in this Albanian institution,” she said.
According to Albania’s Institute of Statistics, the country has roughly 600 cafes per 100,000 people – one of the highest in the world.
Kryemadhi said he hoped his portraits would help alleviate some of the stress caused by coronavirus in Durres, an area still recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2019 that killed dozens and left thousands more homeless.
“Coffee art is one of the most successful therapies,” said Kryemadhi.
“It helps to overcome difficult situations such as those experienced with this pandemic or with the earthquake.”