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Painting with wine

Serbian artist Sanja Jankovic uses different types of wine as paint, a practice dating back to at least the 11th century.

‘Vinolisa’ by Sanja Jankovic inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ c1503-1506

Sanja Jankovic’s relationship with wine is rather unusual. Known as ‘Winerelle,’ she creates skilful artworks using red, rosé and white wines inspired by High Renaissance artists through to television characters. Trained in Fine Art, she embarked upon the challenge of painting with wine, or creating “well-controlled wine stains” as she puts it, and now exhibits her work in Serbia, Europe and China.

Wine, according to Jankovic, is “a surprisingly unpredictable medium.” It reacts with the canvas creating a varied spectrum of colours, from deep, blood red to bluish purples.

It is important to have “at least three colour tones” to create complex and compelling pieces, she says. These colours, like the flavours, aromas and texture of aged wine, develop and evolve over time. This represents both the charm and challenge associated with this medium.

‘Marilyn Monroe’ by Sanja Jankovic.

When using wine in this manner, vintage variation is particularly pronounced. Jankovic therefore, uses the same wine, from the same bottle and vintage to ensure her colours are consistent. Her grape varieties of choice are Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Explaining her technique, Jankovic says that she uses red wine for the “darkest and cool undertones, which is accomplished through layered brush strokes. On the other hand, rosé is for brighter and warm tones, while white wine is mostly used as a solvent.”

Such techniques, and in particular, wine as a constituent of paint, has a long history dating back to at least the 11th century. Peter de St Audemar et al, writing in the late 11th and early 12th centuries, chronicle the components of paint and the use of wine in diluting oil-based paints. St Audemar states that ‘white [lead], having been first dried, should be ground in, and mixed with, wine for illuminating on parchment.’

In his History of Oil Painting (London, 1847) Sir Charles Lock Eastlake quotes a further anecdote from the 16th century Italian painter, architect, writer, and historian Giorgio Vasari. “The facetious [Buonamico] Buffalmacco,” another Italian painter, had “persuaded some nuns, for whom he painted, to supply him with their choicest wine, ostensibly for the purpose of diluting the colours.”

According to Eastlake, Northern European artists used beer (cerevisia) in their paint, with references to the practice appearing in the works of Theophilus Presbyter (c1070-1125) and Heraclius.

‘Game of Wine’ by Sanja Jankovic

As a contemporary artist, Jankovic is not the only painter utilising wine. Christina LoCascio paints vineyard scenes in wine; Nelva Richardson’s wine paintings are on display in wineries in Napa and Sonoma; Philippe Dufrenoy, a former engineer from Bordeaux, uses only Bordeaux and Californian wines in his work; Elisabeth Seguin uses dried wine and Amelia Fais Harnas prefers wines from the Côtes du Rhône and Cahors for her images.

Meanwhile, The Queen was painted using only Cobra beer and spices by “beer artist” Karen Eland to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee.

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