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Emboldened by Color

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Tucked between 77th Street and 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, there is a neighborhood café called Espresso 77 that serves a variety of beverages, sandwiches and soups. However, it’s not what’s on the menu that’s impressive — it’s what one sees on the walls. Owner Afzal has adorned the café with paintings that would make any viewer take a second look.

While his older brother Anowar, who also displays some of his work in the café, is a full-time artist who has shown his work in exhibits and galleries worldwide, Afzal Hossein has a treasure trove of paintings about to be discovered. Painting in vibrant hues, Afzal says much of his work is reminiscent of his childhood in Bangladesh. He observed, “Where I grew up in Bangladesh, there were so many rich, different colors. In the Indian movies I saw vibrant, solid color. Each piece of my artwork has some of that memory.”

Afzal Hossain ´╗┐is an admirer of master painters such as Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall, who all used color as a means of expressing themselves in their works. Explaining that his art should provide viewers with a sense of happiness, he said, “If people want to see my art, they should put it in their house and think about how beautiful it is, use their imagination. I like to use form and reality.”

Like most immigrants in Queens, Hossain is living the American dream through hard work and inventiveness. Hossain, his mother and seven older siblings have all moved from Bangladesh to Jackson Heights and live within walking distance of each other. Discussing his close-knit family, Hossain said, “When I was 4 years old, my father passed away. My mother and brothers and sisters were always helping each other by holding hands. I try to help my family as much as I can now because we live near each other.”

At 34 Hossain has created an impressive resumé of achievements. With a bachelor of architecture degree from Pratt Institue, he worked at Robert A.M. Stern Architects as a designer where he met his wife, Julie Nymann. To devote more time to his painting, Hossain left the firm to open Espresso 77 where he has been able to display his artwork. In addition to their 2-year-old daughter, he and Nymann’s other joint venture is BANG Architectu­re/Design, a company they formed to work on residential and commercial design projects.

A unique site in a neighborhood full of ethnically diverse restaurants and shops, Espresso 77 serves as a gathering place for the artistic community of Jackson Heights. Hossain displays paintings from other artists, invites musicians to perform at the café and has a story hour for children. “This space is for anybody. It’s a community,” he said. “If anybody needs something, I’ll be there. Artists should be helping out other artists. You have to help each other, otherwise you’re never going to go anywhere.”

Always looking beyond the horizon, Hossain next wants to set up a communal work space for artists in Queens. “I really want to create an artists’ space where people go and pay money and work by the hour,” he said. “It would be a common space with a printing machine. Artists need that. If I had some money, maybe I could buy a warehouse. I have a plan, I just have to do it. As one person, I don’t know how far I can go, but I want to try to give something to the community.”

For more information about Afzal Hossain, his artwork and BANG Architectu­re/Design, you can visit his website at www.afzalhossaindesign.com.

Updated 5:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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