To see an online slideshow of the Café Society, click here.
Next time you order a "Cuppa Joe" at your favorite local hot spot, Painter Bill Hosner wants you to take a closer look at the "kid" behind the counter. Your barista is probably a young adult, actually, but to Hosner, a kid - hardworking, full of ambition and promise. Maybe a little beat down by a nasty economy.
Beyond First Impressions
In the bustle, noises and aromas of busy Northern Michigan coffee shops, Bill Hosner has painted full-color portraits of some of his favorite baristas. These are folks serving it up at Roast & Toast in Petoskey, and in several Traverse City coffeehouses.
"You know, as I would sit and talk to them, I just became inspired by these fine young Americans, working hard. And I was able to look beyond tattoos and piercings and sometimes hair color not found in nature, and saw that they had visions and dreams and a lot of it revolved around education," he says.
Now the baristas, male and female, are members of Bill Hosner's "Café Society" - a collection of pastels he's donating to startup a new scholarship fund for folks working paycheck to paycheck, behind the counter. The faces are mostly serious, eyes often looking straight at you, color used in a wonderful play of light and shadow. Six portraits have already sold, most to private collectors for a price of at least a thousand dollars apiece.
More Than Just A Barista
It's tough to squeeze in a conversation with Barista Alisha Cochran during a busy morning shift at Cuppa Joe in Traverse City. Even when she sits down, her eyes are scanning the room, aware of customers she could be attending to. The 26-year-old MSU grad juggles a couple of jobs to pay off one last student loan... and just to pay the rent.
"I have a two-bedroom apartment and I have two roommates," she says." I live with a couple whose younger than me, actually. I mean it's pretty nice, but, needless to say, I haven't really been able to really save any money."
The economy was in its downward spiral when Cochran graduated a couple years back, with a degree in interior design.
"A lot of times people just think that you're a coffee shop worker and there's nothing else to you. When really, we all have a lot of, like, different things we want to do with our lives, but it's just, we don't really have, like, the resources right now," she says.
"They do," Bill Hosner chimes in, sitting next to her in a booth. "They have individual lives. I mean, you talk to Megan, and Megan wants to become a nurse. You talk to Rachel, and Rachel would like to study psychology. You talk to Alisha here, and Alisha would like to add one more degree to her education."
"Or five," Cochran responds.
"There is a Café Society," Hosner says. "I think it's the perfect term for these young baristas. They have a common bond, and for them it's their barista-hood, or whatever."
Seeing Beyond The Obvious
Hosner dedicated a couple years to this project, painting each barista live, in four-15 minute sessions. He says doing full-color work under those time constraints, and surrounded by life in a coffee shop, stretched him artistically. But he hopes that when people see Alisha's portrait, they see something special about her they may not notice even in real life. Perhaps it's a dignity, something not always obvious when she's working in a yellow t-shirt, with her red curls tossed back in a ponytail.
"It's kind of like, when I do landscapes, and people will look at the painting and they'll say, 'Well, I don't see all those colors,' and, 'I never saw that scene that way,'" he says. "And invariably they'll go out to where I painted it and they'll come back to me and say, 'Bill you were right. Those colors were there, I just never saw them before.'
"So hopefully when you look at the portraits, you'll look a little closer and you're going to say, 'You know, I know Alisha Cochran, but, you know, I never saw her quite that way. I never saw as dignified, or represented,' or, 'You know, I never really kind-of caught all that color in her hair, or the fact that she wears that blue kerchief at times, and it just kind of goes along with her blue eyes."
"Alisha - oh, very, very, very pretty," agrees Collector Piper Goldson. "She has this blue scarf on her head and - just radiant. Whenever he paints there's just an energy in his paintings. She just radiates!"
Goldson was so drawn to the pastel of Alisha Cochran that she plans to hang it in her private collection, at home. She runs Suttons Bay Galleries, which specializes in old and rare - starting with the 15th Century. But Bill Hosner's work is on her radar, one of just two living artists she's interested in.
Until at least mid-September, Alisha's portrait hangs with the 29 other members of The Café Society in an exhibit in Petoskey at the Little Traverse History Museum.
And Piper Goldson says it's worth a trip.
"Seeing them all together, that makes such an impact. You can't imagine," she says.