Painting that ages and changes, just like the wine it’s made of

Elisabetta Rogai - Eno Arte

Can a painting ever get older, just like a man does? That is the idea that lays beneath Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, but now what was only literary fiction has become true, thanks to the brilliant intuition of the Florentine artist Elisabetta Rogai, who discovered the phenomenon while doing some experiments with wine as a source of colour. Many other painters had already tried to use wine on their works, but they never really succeeded, for there were several technical difficulties: the wine density, alcohol volatility, the limitation of the chromatic scale, the possibility of working only on small canvas.

Elisabetta Rogai’s first experiments with wine
Elisabetta Rogai’s first experiments with wine

It took a long period of research and experimental work, which also involved the Department of Chemistry of the University of Florence, yet finally Elisabetta Rogai’s passion for innovation has developed in wine-made paintings. She uses normal canvas, a little charcoal for the main lines and then just white and red wine – no additives or chemical components: such combination allows the wine to reproduce on the canvas exactly the same process of ageing that normally takes place inside the bottles. The result is impressive; it only takes a glance at the just finished painting (left) and the same painting three months later (right) to spot the difference:

That is what makes Elisabetta Rogai’s wine-made paintings unique works: as time goes by, her works age just like bottled wine does, evolving on the canvas from typically juvenile colours (purples and shiny reds) to more mature tones (orange, amber, brown). Such ageing, which normally occurs over the years, only takes a few months. But while the picture of Dorian Gray gets older and uglier, Elisabetta’s works only evolve for what their chromatic aspects are concerned, leaving the figurative aspects unaltered:

In order to avoid never-ending ageing, Elisabetta Rogai has implemented a natural colour fixing system, which implies water and flour and prevents colours to fade beyond a certain limit. Until now she has completed her first 30 works (actually “wine-made” painting takes longer than normal ones, since she has to wait canvas to get dry before to give following hands). The artworks have been exhibited in Italy (Verona, Tuscany, Lombardy), Usa (Los Angeles), China (Hong Kong) and Greece. In November 2013 exhibits are planned in South America and other international locations.

On you can see pictures of any “wine-made” paintings by Elisabetta Rogai:

Next July 8th. at Forte Belvedere in Florence Italy, the Fortress of Santa Maria in San Giorgio del Belvedere, Elasibetta Rogai during an extraordinary event will perform her particular technique of painting with wine.

We had the chance of interviewing these amazing artist during our last visit in Florence.

  • What inspire you to use wine in your painting? Could you share with us this story?

The story of wine-made paintings began a evening over dinner in 2010, when I saw some drops of wine falling from the glass on to the tablecloth. I asked myself if I could ever drive the “anarchy” of the wine spillage and give it a definite guide. And so this is where it all started. At the beginning, when my idea was still to be focused, I used cheap store-bought wine. Then I discovered that each variety has different concentration of color, depending on the substances present in the grapes. So I started selecting some Italian wines (Nero d’Avola from Sicily, Montepulciano or other typical tuscan like Colorino). Now sometimes producers bring their wine to me and ask for a portrait made with their own wine, or a wine-portrait of his wife: to them it’s a status-symbol, and they’re really proud. I usually do exhibitions and live performances, where I paint in front of an audience while people ask me about my art. At the end, they can come close to my paintings and smell wine’s scent.

  • Most of the times we saw exceedingly fascinating and charming women in your paintings by wine. Do you consider this two (wine & charming women) related? How?

Yes, of course I do. Even if in some areas of world customers begin to ask for wine-made landscapes, my favorite subjects are women, because it is in their faces and bodies that I like to capture aspects of their soul. I believe in the power of beauty and femininity. In addition, the wine brings out the joy of living, the spirit of conviviality that women can well represent. That’s how I consider wine and feminine beauty related. I try to create artworks that speak an international language, that touch the hearts of people all over the world, since the idea of feminine beauty is common to many different cultures and especially it’s emerging more and more in the high-end contemporary art circles and amongst sophisticated collectors too. There is indeed an increasing number of female artists nowadays that also painting about female feelings or social or political conditions, from China to India to New York. And I believe this is a good sign of the evolving of the times, as we do live in modern times and so art should reflect that too. I also appreciate Valeria Napoleone’s well renowned collection of female artists only. I find absolutely inspiring how someone can embrace and raise awareness about women’s works like she does.

  • Among so many great works of yours, would you like to introduce one or two that means special or different for you than the others? Would you like to share their stories with us? 

Well, as sometimes happens, I’m bounded to my first wine-made painting, “Ebbrezza” (“Elation”), because it let me realize what I was doing. Almost three years ago, I looked for something that could transmit joy and euphoria, and I chose to use wine instead of colors. After a couple of weeks colors began changing. I was quite disappointed, ‘cause I thought I made some mistakes, but a few minutes later I understood what was really happening. And I realized what it could be done. Another one is “Like David”, a kind of feminine transposition of the world-known “David” by Michelangelo, one of the symbols of my city, Florence.


  • Would you like to introduce briefly about how you turn wine into painting material? What is the biggest challenge or difficulty in the procedure? How do you overcome it?

I do not use pure wine, because after a short time it would evaporate and eventually disappear. At the beginning I tried to make wine boil for a long time, but still it was not enough: now I concentrate the cold wine, so I obtain a cup of reduction from a normal bottle of wine. I prefer using boiled wine for backgrounds, and concentrated wine for more strong-colored areas . Of course, it is a 100% natural process. As people usually look at my paintings they initially think it’s a simple thing to reply. Then they understand that a painting done in that way would not last more than a few weeks. It’s more complicated. As I often say, wine has always existed, it would be foolish to think of being the first or the only ones to use it. But I think I have found a personal technique that eliminates many obstacles, several technical difficulties related to wine density, alcohol volatility, limitation of chromatic scale and obligation of working only on small canvas. Wine differs from other materials because the risk to have a monochrome painting is extremely high. I have to put on the canvas the exact amount of wine with the exact density to allow the painting to have “chiaroscuro” and light’s shades. Moreover, wine is a live material – it ages on canvas as it does in the bottle, so people can see their wine-made paintings evolving month after month before their own eyes, and the smell changes too. Both colours and aromas naturally mutate and eventually settle in time. It’s a fascinating process. Once I have defined the subject of a new artwork, I start drawing on the canvas with burnt vine’s wood (charcoal), then I start covering it with the first hand of wine. Here it is important to give the correct amount in every area with horizontal and vertical brushes, letting drops falling and trying to drive them down to the base of the canvas. After the first hand is dry, I start the second and then the third one. After about two weeks, the painting’s colours begin to settle and the whole figure starts to evolve – at the beginning it has the colours of a young wine (bright red purple cherry hues) then slowly it takes the shade of a reserva or more mature wine (dark orange, caramel, brown and even chocolate sometimes).


  • Would you like to tell us what else masterpieces you’ve made besides the painting by wine? We saw the common of Ms Cristina Acidini Luchinat in your page that “I always appreciated the suggestions that Rogai captures and puts in the sculpture like shapes inspired by the Tuscan 16th century, where there is a vast range of losers, pains, and prisoners, whose bodies bend in order to protect a wounded soul.” Is that means you also have some sculptures? Would you like to introduce a little bit about this to us?

I used to paint since I was a little girl, but I decided to take the brushes back into my hands almost 15 years ago when I was still looking after my children, as I suddenly felt the need to express myself again as an artist. Nature’s call I guess. I started painting with wine three years ago, but before that I had already experimented with the technique of painting on “denim canvas” using real jeans with even the seams of the trousers. Also, one of my technique of fresco paintings – the “Baptism of Christ” – was settled in an old Tuscan church. I never tried to sculpt, I guess ms. Acidini refered to my deepest artistic influences, ranging from Michelangelo (for the twist of muscles and the concept of torsion) to Lucien Freud for the peculiar use of colors.

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