Where art and vino mix

Christina LoCascio is drunk on the possibilities of painting with wine



If most of us accidentally spilled a glass a wine, we'd hastily clean it up before it would stain. But for 26-year-old Christina LoCascio, serendipity came in the form of making a mess. Christina, a painter by night and tasting room manager at Artiste Winery in Santa Ynez by day, had just such an experience a while back. Though she had been painting for several years, it was the happy accident of spilled wine on canvas that created an epiphany of sorts. Shortly after the spill, she began to experiment with using wine as the main medium in her paintings. "Wine has the ability to evoke emotion and sometimes even memories, much like art," she says.

Having studied at California Institute for the Arts and the Otis Institute for Art and Design, and having obtained a fine arts degree from University of California Santa Barbara, she knows whereof she speaks. Her understanding of painting and wine affords her the confluence of her two passions. "I have studied wine and winemaking, realizing early on that it's an art form of its own. This understanding has allowed me to explore with wine in the physical sense, as paint."

During her show at Artiste last Thanksgiving, she sold a dozen of her works right off the bat, including one to actor Noah Wyle of ER fame. She was truly amazed at the interest in her work. Yes, it sounds like a novelty and it would be easy to dismiss paintings made from wine as a niche market. In fact, people must sign a waiver acknowledging that the paintings could change over time, since wine is a living, breathing entity, at least when she puts it on paper. However, she says, "I don't think people bought my paintings because they were made with wine; I think they bought them because they legitimately connected to the pieces."

There is definitely a future for her work, though it wasn't long ago that she doubted her future as an artist. She possesses real, tangible talent, even for one so young. Her wine paintings offer a connection to the earth, both literally and figuratively, and she often uses the wine paste for texture and to give the pieces depth. Her work comprises a wide range of subject matter, from grape clusters and vineyards, to churches, seasides, nudes and random European street scenes, all bathed in the soft autumnal tones of merlot, syrah, cabernet and others.

Currently, she's experimenting with separating the pigments in wine to maximize the depth of color, using the left over solids to achieve deeper hues. This paste allows greater control over her images and more vibrant and intense color values. She's recently begun working with a chemist from Santa Barbara to extract even more pigment and color from wines, thus enhancing the paintings themselves. This involves cooking the wine so no liquid is left, only its essence, the sediment. In addition to wine, she augments and accents the paintings with chalk and acrylic.

She's been asked by Artiste Winery to design two bottle labels, which she was thrilled to do. Those wines are currently for sale in the tasting room. One label, "Nelle Colline" (translated as "in the hills" in Italian), features a woman preparing for a picnic, a bottle of wine and a book in her basket, an old farming village watching over her in the distance. This image was inspired by Christina's time in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. "There are vineyards as far as the eye could see, like a patchwork quilt. From a distance, it created a beautiful pattern," she says of her travels in Italy. The wine itself, a blend of dolcetto, merlot and barbera, also ties in to the Northern Italian theme, since dolcetto is the main grape from that area. "The woman in the foreground represents my vision of a picnic in the hills of Italy, a peaceful and inspiring retreat." Christina is reticent to give too much information about her pieces, but instead prefers "to let the owner interpret the significance themselves."

Bion Rice, owner and winemaker at Artiste, has been very supportive of her talent. "We like to promote passionate people, artists, winemakers. Anyone can make widgets for profit, but passion is hard to come by," he says. In addition to her original pieces, Artiste offers a limited number of signed giclee prints for purchase.

Michael Cervin is a freelance writer based in Santa Barbara, for more of his work log on to www.michaelcervin.com.