Teresa Abboud. (Photos by Isadora Pennington)

On a warm summer morning, I pulled to the curb in front of a cool midcentury home in North Druid Hills. As I walked down the sloping driveway I heard a voice say hello from behind the parked cars. It was Teresa Abboud, Lebanese artist, who welcomed me to her studio on the lower level of her home. Shelves lined with colorful miniature homes, racks of greeting cards, and painted coffee cups are just inside the door. Paintings of women, some more abstracted than others, adorn the walls. A large piece is propped up on a nearby easel awaiting the touch of her brush. 

Abboud moved to Atlanta from Lebanon in 2013 with her husband Fuad, and they have since welcomed two daughters, now five and seven years old. As a young woman, Abboud graduated from the Academie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts, specializing in illustration and both 2D and 3D animation. Her portfolio includes illustrated posters, magnets, shirts, children’s books, painted portraits, quirky homes, and decorated traditional Lebanese coffee cups. While the medium varies, for Abboud the message remains the same: unity and love.  

“I am the kind of person that always thought ‘I want to change the world to be a better place,’ accepting each other and other religions. This is my dream. That’s why I’m doing illustrations.”

Using bold colors to convey a positive message, her works explore topics such as the meaning of home, anti-racism, and bringing people together over a universal love of coffee. “My art has a mission, at least for me,” said Abboud. “It drives me to do more. When I talk to customers in markets about my art I feel I am changing something in them or showing them another perspective.” 

Her coffee works depict scenes such as a number of cups from different countries, fanciful imagery exploding out from a mug, and another reads that just like coffee life is both bitter and sweet, full and empty, black and white. “We are all different but coffee unites us,” she said, flipping through a stack of prints. 

For Abboud, her love of coffee and art both tie back to her upbringing with a family of artists. Her mother mainly paints house-shaped wood blocks, a tradition which she has continued here in the states. Her father works with wood and her brother is an accomplished painter. Art comes naturally to Abboud, and a quick glance around her studio reveals that it’s a tradition she’s passing down to her daughters as well. On a nearby child-size easel is a portrait that is clearly inspired by the completed works on the walls. We had to swipe away remnants of glitter from her desk before we sat down to work as her children had been crafting there shortly before I arrived. 

As she spoke, Abboud’s eyes lit up and her thoughts sometimes came tumbling out in a river of passion. Since she arrived in America, she learned that while there is much to be said for the American Dream as it were, there is also a lot that this country has yet to address. Five years ago when she found Refuge Coffee in Clarkston, she knew that her artwork would be a good fit for the space. She walked in, explained her art, and got an immediate yes. In the years since she has done events, murals, and recently completed a mural painted on the glass of their new Midtown location adjacent to the High Museum of Art. “I don’t know anybody there, nobody sent me,” she said. “I can say they really pushed me. Refuge Coffee, I am grateful for them. I think we have the same message and I understand what they want to say.”

Abboud also won a competition with the City of Atlanta, and she was given the opportunity to paint a mural on a city building on Trinity Street following the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. “When you are an intruder coming here – now I feel part of the city – but you see things differently. When you see a place for the first time it’s different than living in it. I see the racism and injustice, while there are also a lot of options to get better. There is a lot of movement.”

Examining racism, classism, and prejudice is important to Abboud. Many of her paintings depict abstracted portraits that combine various skin tones and features, all of which is part of her fervent desire to elicit understanding and compassion between people of different races and ethnicities. “I consider myself an Arab person, and I like people to meet me to see that I can be like you. I am not so different. I have two hands, I have parents, I went to school. We have the same path, though I’m Arab,” explained Abboud. 

Abboud tells me that she has felt welcomed in her community, ultimately choosing to stay in the same neighborhood when they upgraded from a too-small apartment to their current home. An in-home workspace was a must, the larger space accommodating a growing body of work and the potential to hold illustration lessons there in the future. 

“It has been perfect. My family makes me happy. My house makes me happy. My friends make me happy. What makes me the most happy is to feel that I am well received and my voice is heard. I feel part of the community through my work.”

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.