Patrick Grzelewski is an artist and coffee roaster doing his thing in Brooklyn, NY. He and his wife run the incredible Orogenesis Press, creating detailed, dark, and surreal original artwork. He has also been a production roaster for Stumptown Coffee for 7 years, but I first met him in Chicago when I first started working in coffee. He and his passionate love for the craft made him a monumental part of my training during my early roasting days, and we quickly became friends. It was a pleasure catching up with him, seeing all the amazing work he’s done, and chatting about coffee.
Hey Patrick, thanks for taking some time to Spill The Beans. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hey Ben, my pleasure man, thanks for the opportunity to chat with you and the Glassworks community. I’m an artist, musician, print maker, and coffee roaster living in Brooklyn, NY. For the last 7 years of my 11 year coffee career, I’ve been a production roaster for Stumptown here in NYC. My wife Morgan and I run a small screen printing press, which is split between commercial work, commission based illustrations, and original art prints.
I first met you through coffee roasting. How did you get started and how did it evolve for you?
I’ve pretty much loved coffee since I was a teenager, spending a lot of time in cafes where the rest of the punks, hippies, and various weirdos congregated in my hometown. I started working in cafes after moving to Seattle in the early 2000’s. But it really wasn’t until I moved to Chicago in 2007 that coffee evolved from medicine into a deep fascination and eventual career pursuit. You can pretty much trace it to the first cup of Rwanda Bufcafe I had from Metropolis Coffee. At the time I had no idea that Rwanda produced coffee at all, let alone the remarkable beverage that was before me. The depth of its natural sweetness, and the clear flavor of raisin and plum were like nothing I’d ever tasted. Even with an underdeveloped palate, it was clear to me that there was something very different about the coffee itself, and the way it was presented. I decided I had to learn more, and that Metropolis was where I wanted to do it. It took a couple weeks of polite pestering before convincing them to hire me at the cafe, and within 6 months I’d worked my way through production and into a roasting apprenticeship. Right place, right time, I suppose. While I did enjoy a lot about being a barista and the camaraderie of cafe culture, I was ultimately much more stimulated behind the scenes. There was something about being a roaster and developing the craft that was very romantic to me, and I had a strong desire to be as close to the product as possible. It had a certain magic and mystique that is hard to describe, and there was so much to learn. It still has that for me, and I’ve never stopped learning. Hopefully I never will.
Could you tell us about your illustration work, Orogenesis Press, and other artistic endeavors of yours?
In terms of visual disciplines in art, I was self taught. While I did end up spending a good portion of my 20’s focused on writing and performing as a musician, drawing was always my first love. Towards the end of my time in the Midwest, life had become very chaotic. I had a young child, my first marriage was falling apart, and I began to take solace in reconnecting with visual mediums as it became more difficult to devote that time to music. The connection between music and artwork for me was always beautifully exemplified in gig posters, album covers, and t-shirts; so it was around this time that I developed an interest in the process of silkscreen printing. As I’m sure you recall Ben, you and Dan Grzeca helped me execute my first ever screen print... a poster for Seafarer’s last show at The Empty Bottle. Fast forward a couple years, and I was living in Brooklyn basically starting my life over after getting divorced. Since the move I’d been doing mostly mixed media collages and abstract paintings, and started working with the Con Artist Collective on the Lower East Side. It was a great community of supportive, creative people, and a good opportunity to show work periodically in a gallery setting. But while the work was cathartic, it was often large scale and pretty unfocused. The space had a four color press and a small exposure unit in the basement, so having hit a wall with current projects I began to mess around. Before I was even modestly comfortable with the process, I was getting hit up to do jobs for friends and co-workers. At the time, Stumptown production was a decent gig for anyone in a touring band, being pretty accommodating to rehires and seasonal help. So between the two communities, there were plenty of opportunities to print shirts, posters, and whatever else. Orogenesis Press however, did not materialize until Morgan Paradis (my current wife and business partner) got involved. She helped me struggle through the first couple projects, and was simultaneously encouraging me to push my artwork more towards illustration and to explore some visual concepts in the context of printmaking. She was also languishing in a corporate day job and looking for something to pursue that she could build on her own terms, something that actually represented her interests and stimulated some creativity. We decided to give it a shot together, and the business has evolved organically ever since. We’ve had the pleasure of working and connecting with so many interesting people along the way; a young local brewery, an organic dye maker, record labels, bands, tattoo artists, and the list keeps growing. Its heartening too that the growth has been entirely through word of mouth, people have been amazing about spreading the word. This last year has seen more opportunities for commission work (album artwork and t-shirt designs primarily,) which is challenging at times but a lot of fun for me. In 2019, the focus is definitely going to be on producing more original work. I have a ton of ideas and half done projects, but a huge spike in commercial work this summer made it difficult to do much else. It's a good problem to have, but I’m certainly ready to switch gears.
You were also actively playing music while living in Chicago. Is this something you are still doing?
Not actively, I’m sad to say. But honestly, I really needed a break from music when I left Chicago. Seafarer was a project I invested a lot of time and emotion in to, and when it dissolved I was pretty burnt out. I’ve picked up my guitar in fits and spurts over the years, done a little writing and composing, but nothing serious. Mostly minimal guitar stuff, ambient/noise, stuff in that realm. If I ever do shift my focus back to music, that's probably what I’ll be working on. That, or an early Alice Cooper cover band.
What would you consider the biggest influences on your art, and how have you seen these evolve over time?
It definitely starts with the early Surrealists. Dali, Ernst, Magritte were all huge for me, but also Hieronymus Bosch, William Blake, Goya, and Francis Bacon. My parents house growing up was basically books from floor to ceiling, and I remember these works vividly from flipping through art anthologies as a child. The simultaneous feeling of terror and complete fascination is probably my first memory of feelings brought on by works or art, and they sent my imagination into overdrive. If I had to name the single largest influence on my work over the years though, it would unquestionably be H.R. Giger. I saw Alien when I was fairly young and it had a huge impact on me, still probably my favorite film of all time. When I got a little older and was exposed to his paintings and sculpture, I became obsessed. My fixation with bio-mechanical imagery has never really gone away. I guess it's hard to pin down exactly how one’s influences evolve, but 3 artists whose work has held considerable impact for me since moving to New York are Mike Kelley, Raymond Pettibon, and Paul Laffoley. Kelley and Pettibon’s work was fairly ubiquitous for anyone who was into punk rock. But Mike Kelley’s massive full museum retrospective at MoMA PS1, and Pettibon’s show To Wit (and subsequent retrospective at The New Museum) drove me way deeper into their worlds. It definitely changed the way I approach my own work. Morgan introduced me to Paul Laffoley and the Boston Visionary Cell. His intricate paintings and models employ principles of architecture and design to create complex living structures and metaphysical machinery that are simply mind blowing. You could spend hours just dissecting the meticulously organized blueprints and explanatory texts; its as immersive as it is visually arresting. Finally I have to mention Moebius and Philippe Druillet. Comics and graphic novels have always had a big influence on me, and more so since my work has moved towards a more illustrative style. I discovered both of these absolute masters of the medium pretty late in the game, but suffice it to say I’m making up for lost time.
What do you find yourself listening to these days?
Lately it’s been almost entirely metal. More specifically, I’ve been kind of obsessed with the NWOBHM era and a lot of the heavy blues based rock from the 70’s that paved the way. Sabbath of course, but also the first few Budgie records and early Judas Priest. Priest has been in heavy rotation pretty much across their catalog, but Sad Wings of Destiny is really unique. You can hear them codifying their eventual stylistic signatures, while still being rooted in that underground comedown era heaviness. Other than that, a lot of old school death metal (Death, Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse), thrash (early Sepultura, Voivod, Sacrifice), and some recent stuff that has been blowing my mind (Blood Incantation, Volahn, Tomb Mold). I also want to mention Intensive Care, which I have really been digging lately. Pretty hard to categorize; the vocals can’t help but bring to mind Justin Broadrick of Godflesh, and the whole thing is a blistering push pull of layered noise and perfectly channeled aggression.
Ok, it’s coffee time. How do you feel that your approach to roasting and/or coffee in general has evolved over time?
For better or worse (assuredly both in at least some measure), my approach and general mentality about coffee has been largely shaped by my experience at Stumptown for the last 8 years. To start with the positive, it has been an absolute privilege to work with this caliber of coffees for so long. The level of cleanliness, sweetness, and complexity of the raw product across the menu astonished me from the moment I was hired, and has only improved over the years. The company has changed a lot, and changed hands twice since I’ve been aboard. Not every change has been a positive one, and seeing any company through a period of significant growth comes with its perils. Ultimately though, the dedication to quality and relationships with producer partners has been the strongest and most consistent aspect of the business. Having the opportunity to work closely with these coffees year after year affords a level of intimacy and intuition from a roasting and cupping perspective that I really cherish. Furthermore, traveling to origin to connect with the folks behind these amazing coffees and experience the reality of production as a livelihood really adds another dimension to one’s perspective of the industry. All the polarized viewpoints on roast profiles, pour over fads, and flashy innovations in brewing technology feel quite trivial when you witness the amount of work that goes into producing even the lower scoring coffees of the world. We are once again living in a time where the C Market sits below the cost of production, which is downright criminal. I do my best every day to give these coffees the same care and attention that they are given at source, but it's not even comparable in scale. My goal as a roaster and a quality focused professional is to communicate, both verbally and through the work that I do, that quality transcends cost, personal preference, preconceived notions, and brand loyalty. It is nothing short of a miracle that this product gets to us at all, a sobering fact that we must not lose sight of if there is any future for this industry.
Visiting coffee farms in Colombia
What do you look for in a good cup of coffee?
Clean, sweet, and balanced, first and foremost. I don’t necessarily dislike Nordic style roast profiles on principle, but as with anything I think it needs to suit what is being presented rather than being applied across the board. More often than not when I drink these profiles out in the world, I find that no matter how exciting they may be initially, the cups collapse as they cool and generally lack depth of sweetness. On the other extreme of the spectrum, I can definitely appreciate the deep sweetness and simplicity of darker profiles, but find that the roast inevitably obscures some of the coffee’s inherent qualities. Overall I pay a lot of attention to developed sugars and how they affect our perception of complex aromatics. I don’t believe there is such thing as the one “correct” profile for any coffee, and really enjoy tasting single offerings in different expressions. Great coffees are so full of possibilities, and the transformation that occurs from subtle changes in roasting approach are fascinating to me.
How do you make coffee at home?
An Aeropress or French press, 90% of the time. Honestly, coffee just tastes way better when I brew it at work during the week, or from a great cafe. I usually go out for coffee on the weekends, but when I’m at home I keep it simple. The Aeropress takes literally a few minutes from start to finish and pretty much always hits the mark.
Aeropress and French Press, photos by Kristan Lieb.
If you're grabbing coffee at a cafe, what is your go to?
An espresso shot and a filter coffee, I rarely order anything else. To me it is the best one two punch of variety and expression when getting to know a roaster, a cafe, or particular coffee. I think that Fetco and other industrial brewers are a highly underrated brew method, and always more consistent than manual brews. Unfortunately, when I order pour overs of any kind at cafes, they are almost universally bad. I adore espresso, always have, and I rarely get to drink it at work so I don’t waste the opportunity when I’m out. Unsurprisingly, my go-to after work beverage is a beer and a whiskey shot.
A shot of espresso, possibly similar to ones Patrick has had.
Any coffee growing regions you are particularly fond of?
For me, Ethiopia and Colombia represent the holy grails of their respective regions. I think the uniqueness and beauty of Ethiopian coffee pretty much goes without saying, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that it was what first truly opened the door to experiencing the full flavor potential of the seed. Colombian coffee in my opinion, is unrivaled in its depth and complexity among coffees from the Americas. There is such diversity from region to region, but the hallmarks of tropical fruit, brown sugar, crisp acidity, heavy body, and long finish make for a very complete and enduring cup. I had the great pleasure of visiting Colombia last October, which really solidified my love for the origin and its coffees.
How do you feel that coffee intersects with your creativity?
I’ve associated coffee with creativity and creative communities ever since I was a teenager. My parents are teachers, and a lot of the literature I was surrounded with growing up introduced me to the idea of cafes as the dens of writers, artists, free thinkers, and the meeting place of subversives and controversial ideas. Rituals are very important to me on a number of levels, and coffee is one that stuck early on. I have great memories of sitting in diners in the middle of the night with a bottomless cup and a pack of cigarettes, just talking shit after band practice. Simple pleasures. The town in Hawaii where I grew up was full of ragged expats from just about everywhere, all ending up on the island with a unique and often bizarre tale to tell. Talking to these folks over coffee at the one shop in town, I began to develop a picture of the world outside the isolated rock I called home, and great fodder for my writings and drawings. This association with coffee as a connecter of people and creative lubricant never really left, and as I got older I sought out cafe jobs to stay as close as possible to that dynamic. Unsurprisingly I continued to meet like-minded people, and was exposed to a lot of new music, art, and literature as a result. When I first started learning about coffee production and becoming involved in roasting, I think I was mostly looking for something that resembled a “career” that I didn’t totally despise...a way to finance my work and keep my head above water. What I found was not only a similarly nurturing community (my boss even let our band store gear and hold weekend practice at the roastery), but a new understanding of the inherent creativity in influencing roast development. It got me thinking a lot about the nature of craft, both in its relation to making art and the ways in which it is distinctive. Ultimately I had discovered a lot of parallels, and a totally new way in which coffee would be a driving force behind my desire to create.
Thanks so much, Patrick. Lastly, have you heard any good jokes lately?
Q: How many Surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: A fish.