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WINE IS A PAINTING/ APRIL 2024

WINE IS A PAINTING
And the Winemaker an Artist

INTRO

An artistic process is different for everyone, and often something of a mystery.  There are some who theorize a divine intervention occurs for the artist, shocking them with inspiration like a strike of lightning.  Frederich Nietzsche wrote of this artist- mystic as someone who “through Apollonian dream- inspiration, his own state, ie. his oneness with the primal nature of the universe, is revealed to him in symbolical dream- pictures.” This is an exciting image; one of great responsibility, skill, and importance.  It makes us thrilled to celebrate “ the artist” because they have a creative magic that the rest of us are lucky to witness.  At Caravan, we are more of the philosophy that one’s whole life is a piece of art- a series of compositions made up of decisions and time and resulting in evolutions are all generated from a place of creativity.  With this mindset, we can define artists as anyone living their lives, and their artwork as what they make from their lives.   This does not eliminate the reality of the artistic professions of painters, musicians, dancers, sculptors, etc, but eliminates creativity as a gift given to a certain few and rather is held by us all.  
For this issue, let’s try an exercise.  Let us think of wine as a work of art.  Primarily considered to be the product of farm labor, or as it relates to biology, chemistry, or history, let us now talk about wine as a product of the creative mind.  Much like visual art, wine is composed of form, and color.  And like music, wine is composed of change over time.  So can wine be a painting?  Can wine be a song?  Is it sculpture? Or performance?
This issue investigates the proposition that wine is art because life is art by analyzing work by two different artists, a painter named Mark Symczak and the Greek winemaker Denthis who has crafted the bottles before you.  To do this, we will be looking at each artwork as a combination of 2 compositions:  Composition #1: Visual (color & form) and Composition # 2: Experiential (time & change).  Using this criteria will allow an easier translation between mediums and more help us to witness wine and drink in paintings. 
Aside: We have chosen the painter Mark Symczak as he is near and dear to our hearts as Lenora’s dad, and because we have just finished curating an exhibition of his works In Congruity: The Paintings of Mark Symczak which is on display at the Edna Carlsten Art Gallery (as part of the Noel Fine Arts Center on the UWSP campus) from April 5- 30, 2024.

MARK SYMCZAK

PATH ENTRANCE, 1983

Form & Color
The palette is warm and earthy, ranging from brown, maroon, red, darker yellows, sand, and grays.  The people coming and going from the Path entrance are made up of the same colors as the city that drives them, showing the connection between the two despite water in between.  Even where there is blue, it is light and opaque for the water and only slightly brighter where it highlights the boats in the harbor.  The most shocking part of the scene is the central commuter’s red dress which moves the scene from a nostalgic sepia feeling to a hot summer day. And like a wind blowing the reeds along a river’s edge, the commuters all bend toward the right, no matter their task.  The thing that pulls them is the entrance to the Path Station, the train that carries you between Hoboken, NJ and lower Manhattan.  While this movement can be seen as a metaphor for his (and all of our)draw to NYC, if you have ever ridden the Path or a NY subway, you may also know the vacuum feeling created by the train pulling into the station.  Even against your will, or better judgment, NYC sucks you in.  
 
Time & Change
In 1982, Mark and his wife Susan moved from Pittsburgh to NY/ NJ to pursue painting on a larger stage.  While Pittsburgh is by no means a small city, we see a curiosity and fascination with people emerge once they settle in Hoboken that is different from his portraits and surreal scenes involving people from the late 1970s.  There is a new frenetic energy generated from the menagerie of people squeezing into these cities that is surreal all on its own.  
Like Mark Symczak, Hoboken and NYC were on the crest of great change themselves.  Hoboken had been experiencing a relentless (and suspicious) series of fires in the late 1970s through early 1980s resulting in the flight of low income Latino families and influx of lower and middle class, predominantly white, artists and city workers.  When the Symczaks arrived, Hoboken was still very affordable and beginning to rebuild.  New York City similarly was crawling out of a bad recession and destructive end to the 1970s that left buildings in ruin and crime at an all time high.  This environment also created a freedom for artists to start realizing their autonomy from the art establishment and begin to construct their own galleries, exhibition spaces, bars, clubs, and even homes from the abandoned wreckage.  It was an exciting time to be young, in love, and full of big ideas.

RED WINGED SWALLOW IN FLIGHT, 2011

Form & Color
Layers of undulating blues surround this swallow of green and red, set on a square of glowing sunlight.  These are colors of nature, the originator of the colors that inspire artists to put brush to canvas.  Like the flapping of birds wings, these layers are made of quick confident strokes and then cut and arranged to create the scene.  Because this is a still image, framed and flat, we are able to look at it with the same rules as those we apply to a book, and see that the bird is pointing backwards; maybe wanting to fly back to somewhere it’s been, or wanting to return to an earlier stage in its life.  This bird does not fly through the sky but rather is on top of three panes of active color, progressing into darker shades, the final one feeling the most foreboding or soothing depending on how you feel about the dark.  Some of us feel more comfortable when the sun sets and the day is done, while others might feel sorrow to see the light disappear.  No matter the conclusion, this swallow shows freedom through its form of open wings and head tilted up.  Yet, it is ostensibly constricted by the layers of frames.
 
Time & Change
Twenty- eight years later, Mark and Susan are still living in New Jersey and have two grown children.  They have settled into the more suburban Nutley, NJ where now they drive into New York City.  And Mark has been battling cancer for 8 years.  The birds began to emerge at the start of this new decade making a sharp contrast from his people-dominated scenes over the last 30 years.  You can find birds in many paintings throughout his career, but this is the first time birds are the main subject, often placed in the center like a candid portrait.  Time is also felt in the process of generating his bird images.  Painting on tens of pages of paper at a time, followed by hours of staring, reveals the birds living in the strokes.  He then cuts and collages the birds into life, often on vibrant and elaborate backgrounds rarely illustrating natural habitats. Living with the ongoing question of mortality for this long has manifested itself in these birds, often associated with passed souls and acting as a comfort for their freedom to effortlessly travel between land and sky.  They also pay homage to his mother who instilled a reverence for birds in her children early on.  She too is on a decline, rolling her way through dementia.  So perhaps her mortality is on his mind as well while he creates these creatures.  The contrast between different phases of life can be felt dramatically in the paintings of Mark Symczak, and the stories they tell are indicative of all of our timelines as well. 

PRODUCER & PLACE

These two wines come from the Denthis Family of Producers working in the Peloponnese region of southern Greece. Somewhat like a co-op, these producers have come together to create varietal wines that are representative of the region. Both bottles are made from historic varieties that have been grown in the Peloponnese region for hundreds of years. This is notable not only for the direct link these grapes provide to past times, but also as a sign of steadfast producers that have not given in to the commercial pressure to plant more recognizable "international" varieties.
The Peloponnese Region covers the peninsula that is the southernmost part of mainland Greece (although, technically, since the carving of the Corinth Canal, it is now an island). It is the meeting place for the Aegean, Ionian and Mediterranean seas. The landscape is filled with mountains, valleys and plateaus, which create many unique microclimates for agriculture. Grape growing for wine has been happening in this region for thousands of years with great success.
 
 

WINE 1

Stamnaki, Assyrtiko 2022

Greece, Peloponnese

Form & Color
Assyrtiko is an indigenous Greek varietal, grown and made into wine by a family of winemakers. It is one of the oldest grapes in Greece and is well known and appreciated for its high acidity, making it very food friendly. When thinking about color and how it happens in wine, one thing to talk about is maceration. This wine is directly pressed, meaning the grapes are pressed and the juice drained off to ferment without any maceration time. This creates a very lightly colored & freshly scented wine. Direct pressing is a way to capture the most delicate (and fleeting aromas) that come from the grapes, without losing them to time of maceration and/or being buried in other flavors that come from the grape skins themselves. And then, looking at the wine we can see a brilliant & clear pale straw color. This wine undergoes a clarification process with bentonite clay which eliminates any haze causing particles. The clay attaches itself to these particles and sinks to the bottom of the tank, leaving the wine bright and clear. 
 
Time & Change
On the palate, you might notice the wine does have some texture. This comes from the wine sitting in the tank with the lees (dead yeast particles) for 6 weeks. This lees aging also helps to prevent the wine from oxidation, so that those fresh & bright flavors remain. The wine in this bottle is a wine that is meant to be drunk young. It will not benefit from aging and is designed to be consumed right away. While there are several white wines that can be made to age and develop over time, this is not one of them. So, in the end we have a very composed wine filled with visual brightness, aromatic lightness, and stimulating acidity.

WINE 2

Stamnaki, Agiorgitiko 2021

Greece, Peloponnese

Form & Color
This is Greece's most widely planted dark-skinned variety. To contribute to its deep color, the winemakers let the wine go through a 7 day maceration on the skins. Maceration gives the wine color and texture as the juice pulls tannins and flavors from the skins and pulp of the wine. Another process occurring in this wine is called Malolactic Fermentation (MLF). Not technically a fermentation, certain bacteria in the wine eat the malic acid occuring in the wine and convert it to lactic acid. Lactic acid is an acid also found in milk, and in wine, it gives a slightly creamy & rounded mouthfeel on the palate. MLF occurs in most red wines and some white wines. As a way to add texture without adding expensive oak barrel aging, MLF is another tool for the winemaker to choose. This wine goes through no clarification process, leaving a deeper color and richer texture on the palate. 
Time & Change
The winemakers chose not to put this wine in oak barrels. Instead, they opted for aging in stainless steel tanks for 45 days. One of the benefits of stainless steel is to retain the aromatics and freshness first released by the grapes, while letting the complexities integrate into a complex whole. There is a naturally occuring moderate level of tannins that come from the Agiorgitiko grapes. By choosing to age this wine in stainless steel tanks, the winemakers have created a dry & tannic red that has been able to retain a feeling of freshness. A beautiful balance of dark fruit flavors while not being too heavy on the palate. This wine may soften over time with a year or two of aging. But the way it is drinking now seems ideal. 
 
 
* All paintings in this issue are by Mark Symczak
Self Portrait as Prisoner, 1993
Path Entrance, 1983
Red Winged Swallow in Flight, 2011
Backstairs, 1977
Set Design, 1978

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Our aim is to give a glimpse into the many roles wine has played throughout history.  All subjects mentioned deserve more attention and research and we encourage you to keep exploring.  We are only here to pop the cork.

Many Thanks, Caravan Wine Shop

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