Art without Borders: The Coffee Artist Nurlan Duishobekov from Bishkek

Nurlan Duishobekov is a graphic designer and video illustrator. He studied graphic design in the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. His work took place in Almaty, London, New York and Los Angeles displayed at Coffee Festivals. The artist has been covered by various Media, including National Geographic. A portrait.

This article was originally published on Novastan’s German website on 12 January 2021.

Sunday morning, a tangy smell of coffee and hot croissants and lounge music fill the environment in the Bishkek Café. Nurlan shows a slight smile, which radiates warmth and tranquillity. A young man with coffee-coloured eyes, which at first glance goes unnoticed. But inside him burns the bright fire of art.

He drank a sip of his coffee slowly and talked about his daily routine. “I get up in the mornings, then I work, and in the evenings, I study in Online Format. It can seem boring, but I enjoy the time”.

My father is my idol

Nurlan never studied painting, but he was taught by his father Duishobek Kapassovich Alayev, who from 1992 to 2006 worked at the Kyrgyz Republic National Academy of Arts. In 2001, he was appointed associate professor there. He was also an artist and painted landscapes in his studio.

“Since my childhood, I grew up in a creative atmosphere, communicated with students, saw them with colours on canvases and on their hands in the spacious corridors of the academy. My father was my main inspiration”, Nurlan said nostalgically, while the snow gently taps on the window.

In 2006, Nurlan lost his father and stopped painting. Four years later, he studied Economics at the Kyrgyz National University. But during an internship at the tax office, he realised that he did not want to pursue this direction. “In my time, young people mostly studied finance or business, everything else has been seen as a disgrace. Today, young people choose their profession more consciously. But I do not regret my studies. In a way, it is also a useful experience”.

From Business to Art

Like most students in the capital, the young man also worked part-time during his studies. At the Café shop chain ‘Sierra Coffee’, he first became interested in Latte Art. With the warm atmosphere, the cosy room, the changing faces, he one day had an unusual and quite crazy idea: coffee itself as a colour to use. In his free time, he began painting with coffee on paper. “I first tried to paint with espresso coffee, then with various other types. Finally, instant coffee seemed to be the cheapest and the best suited.”, he recalls.

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Engulfed in his routine, the young artist did not show his paintings for a long time. Painting was only a hobby for him, he painted for himself, because the process gave him peace and joy in his life. But one day his colleagues noticed his painting and saw that he had a potential.

“When my boss found out about my passion, he kindly offered to hold an exhibition in the café, which I categorically refused. This idea was then offered to me again and again, until I agreed. The exhibition was the first experience. I felt unsure of myself, but as the people came and said that they found my paintings very beautiful, it was an indescribable inspiration”.

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Nurlan later became active in the art world. On a warm day in May 2018, the young artist took part for the first time in a big social-cultural action, ‘Night of the Museum’. Then he realised that other people also use coffee to paint.

“I like painting with coffee, it conveys warmth and comfort. Today, there are no borders, no sensors, no prohibitions, no requirements that one should only work with gouache or watercolours. Today, people use also unconventional means instead of common colours, like cinnamon, sugar, resin, or others”, said the coffee artist, with his paintings on the table mirroring his thoughts. In one painting, a grandfather is sitting on a bench and seems particularly pensive.

International Success

Later, Nurlan took part in a worldwide art competition on coffee painting and his paintings were first exhibited in New York and Los Angeles and later also in London.

Along the development of digitalisation, Nurlan was also interested in computer graphics and design. He designed posters, flyers, and other advertising products for a café in Bishkek.

He completed a graphic design course in Bishkek and now continues a Master’s degree at the Higher School of Economics. “My idea of the student timetable has changed fundamentally during my time as a student. Computer graphics is quite a new field in Kyrgyzstan”, commented Nurlan. Opposed to Kyrgyzstan, this field is far more demanded in Moscow.

“Our grandparents have been through so much, and yet they manage to keep their smile and enjoy the little things” − The picture ‘Happiness’ by Nurlan Duishobekov

Nurlan also works occasionally as an artist in different projects. He had the opportunity to participate in the UNICEF-Project “Protecting the rights of children affected by migration”, where he made the illustrations of the heroes for the book series. “These stories of young people are so powerfully written, there is so much adult pain in them”, explained the artist. Nurlan also illustrated the book ‘Muratbek and his way to music’, about the life of the greatest composer and Founder of the Kyrgyz National Conservatory, Muratbek Begaliyev.

I was closer to my mother

In 2018, Nurlan also lost his mother, another turning point in his life. “I was closer to my mother, she raised me mostly. She did not limit me and supported my creative efforts. After my father passed away, she was the only one who cared for me”, he explained. − “Thanks to her, I am now employed in the arts”. After the death of his mother, Nurlan had to have an artistic break and only recently resumed his activities.

“My favourite thing to paint is older people, because one can see real life in their eyes. Our grandparents have been through so much, and yet they manage to keep their smile and enjoy the little things”. It may well be that the artist is partly drawing his parents in these people.

Nurlan actually wanted to work in the Czech Republic, but the pandemic changed his plans. So, he took a job at Light Creative Studio, which he does not regret: “I don’t have a high salary, but I love what I do, and I take great pleasure in my work”.

I rest when I paint

“Painting is my biggest hobby, and I can paint on my knees, emotionally detached from everything. While painting, I rest”, he explained. With his pictures, he wants to show the real Kyrgyzstan by incorporating traditional patterns and motifs of Kyrgyz culture into the drawings. He finds inspiration in different films, landscapes, and videos.

In the young artist’s paintings, one can see not only landscapes and sights, but also historical figures such as ballerina Bübüsara Beyshenalieva, writer Chinghiz Aitmatov or actor Tattybübü Tursunbayeva. He also paints heroes from his favourite films and books, like Duyshon from Aitmatov’s ‘The first teacher’.

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In addition to his father’s work, Nurlan also loves the work of the actor and artist Suimenkul Chokmorov. “I like the paintings of Chokmorov. He paints people, rural motifs and conveys family values and the emotions of people”.

Nurlan Duishobekov portrait of the ballerina Bübüsara Beyshenalieva (1926-1973)

In Nurlan’s pictures, one finds sincere friendship, motherhood, carefree childhood, paternal education, and true love. The coffee paintings have an unusual glossy surface and a charming, pleasant aroma.

“If I could change something in my country, it would be the consciousness of our people. It is a difficult time for the whole world, but if our society was less scrupulous, everything could be better. I saw adults, self-sufficient people, who sold their votes for 2000 Som (about GBP 20) in the election. My heart burned”, he mentions the widespread vote-buying in the October parliamentary election.

But in his optimism, the artist also states that people’s attitudes towards the arts are changing. In the last three years, they have developed more appreciation for artists and their works. “Whereas people used to believe art should be free, they have [now] more understanding that it is also people’s work and time”, described Nurlan.

Artists are also in dialogue with society: “The majority of artists are introverted. I think one must open themselves to the world. Regardless of how society accepts you and your work. I want to live and grow in my country and to contribute to the welfare of our society”.


                                                                                    Written by Sezim Arynova

                                                                        Translated from German by Susan Higgins

                                                                                    Edited by Maya Ivanova and Anna Wilhelmi

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