‘Please sample this splendid Cabernet Sauvignon. I think you’ll find it holds a bold sunrise crimson, moving onto a rich vermilion, with finishes of dark mahogany.”
“Oh, yes. And did you notice the bordering meniscus of dewy rose?”
Huh? What are these oenophilic wannabes blithering about?
Wine lovers typically spend untold amounts of time teasing out a vintage’s varying tastes – granted. But colors? Well, one only concentrates on tastes if one is imbibing the wine. Yet if one opts to paint in this rich medium, then scrutinizing the liquid’s color palate becomes much more appropriate.
And who, might you well ask, wastes perfectly fine wine by setting it to canvass? Innovative and expert artist Mark Schreiber, for one of the very few. And if you are still a bit dubious, visit Ringoes-based Old York Cellars on Saturday October 13 to watch this savory artist performing his grape creations. A feature of the winery’s Mixing Palettes Art and Wine plein air weekend, visitors can also view more than 30 Schreiber wine-painted pictures – that will remain in the tasting room (appropriately) through Thanksgiving weekend.
One of the marvelous benefits of being self-taught is the total inability to recognize what cannot be performed. Last spring, Old York Cellars had invited 25 regional artists to participate in a showing on their grounds. In walking the vineyard, one of his fellow exhibitors turned to Schreiber and asked, “And what medium will you be using for these muted colors?”
After giving the matter absolutely no thought whatsoever, Schreiber replied, “I dunno. I guess I really should try to paint with wine.” He then went home, popped a cork, and proceeded to dabble.
Fortunately, Schreiber’s artistic meanderings had never been subjected to the regimen of a fine arts school education. No one ever told him that you cannot paint with wine. He kept experimenting; plugging away at this unplowed ground. His efforts have brought to fruition an array of assiduously detailed compositions, with a downright surprising range of coloration. Here is no mean monochrome. (Those seeking a tantalizing foretaste may visit www.markschreiberartist.com.)
Schreiber’s latest medium is not unique to this artist. Painting with fruit juices holds its own diminutive niche in the realm of art history. More than 20,000 years ago, Neanderthalic artists, such as those in the Lascaux caves, blended a variety of fruit and vegetable essences. Roman poet Virgil and Lord Byron both refer to painting with Dionysus’ own fruit. But wine is not a common dye, primarily because the red color is achieved by first pressing the juice, then for a week or so, soaking the skins in the resulting clear liquid. (That’s how all those marvelous rich red wines gain their deep carmine hues.)
Today, a small handful of California artists paint with wine, yet by comparison, this writer must admit theirs seem, well, a bit sickly and washed out beside Schreiber’s bold, sharp-edged offerings.
Jokes aside, wine as paint is a lot more whimsical than imagined. Start with a richly aromatic, full-bodied Shiraz. Why not a Cab Sav, Merlot, or Malbec? Because artist Schreiber likes Shiraz — visually. While his imbibing tastes may run more eclectic, he definitely feels that Shiraz provides the deepest, most expressive tones on watercolor paper.
The trouble is, of course, that wine, more than any typical watercolor paints, absorbs outrageously into the paper. Further, depth of color can only be achieved from this monotone substance by continual layering. To create the smoky dark profile of a large and ancient oak, Schreiber had to perform eight washes — layerings of paint.
“It’s painfully time consuming, Schreiber notes. “Each layer takes 10 minutes to dry sufficiently, after it’s laid down. I try to take it outside and let the wind and sun hasten the process.” In between every two layers, the artist additionally layers the painting with a matte fixative to control the color absorption.
Time is, for the family man, artist, and professional Schreiber, something in very short supply. Trained as an architect at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, from which he graduated in 1985, Schreiber now designs at KSD Architects in Cranbury. He also does freelance architectural illustrating on the side.
Long before his architect wife, Heather, arises to commute to her Philadelphia firm, Schreiber is up and running his newspaper delivery route. “It’s a job I got when I was real poor, and honestly I’d love to get rid of it now,” the busy man laughs. However, the artist is ever considering the four children who light up the couple’s Fairless Hills, PA, home. Somewhere in here, Schreiber manages to escape to his home studio and schedule in all his art.
Schreiber does not paint representations. He paints ballads. Some tale, filled with action and expectation is always happening in a Schreiber painting, and the viewer invariably enters in the middle of it. In “Wine Painting III” a covey of Canada geese have begun settling in amidst the stubble of a freshly harvested cornfield seeking to glean prospects beneath a shifting sky.
In another untitled wine painting, sunlight crests distant trees, bringing visible hope to newly emergent grape leaves, still young and translucent on the well tended vine. “Beautiful City Walk,” with its amazingly delicate Shiraz shadings, is brought to life with a single modern maid striding purposefully between an interplay of horizontal, vertical, and diagonal parallels. (I am still impressed with the artist’s achievement of the mottled sign painted on the side of the foreground left hand building in this one.)
Such anticipation and motion carries through in Schreiber’s more traditional media, and it reflects the man himself. A veteran marathon runner — he’s competed in 13 of them — he has become familiar with the canal towpath, both around Princeton, his former home, and across the river. His “Waiting For Breakfast” shows the sunlit, forested towpath with two runners training in the background. In the foreground, a patient, silhouetted great blue heron stands in the shallow, reflective water, scanning for the day’s first meal.
Not the first practicing architect to transition from workman-like graphics to more expressive media, Schreiber first picked up a brush at age 23. Born in Trenton, Mark’s father died before he was 11, which led, as he puts it, to shifting homes either side of the Delaware — Manalapan, Bucks County, Englishtown. Stability and a penchant to paint came in the late 1980s with his first professional design job after graduating from NJIT.
“My first paintings were strictly experimental and for fun,” he says. Then his sixth composition hit home. The National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylic, taken by Schreiber’s compelling bird’s-eye vision of three individuals amidst a sewage spill, awarded it best of show. Surprised and encouraged by this national recognition, Schreiber began to paint, and study, in earnest.
Obsessed with powerful action, Schreiber studied the works of Frank Frazetta, famed fantasy and science fiction artist. Frazetta’s powerfully muscular men wielding lethal blades against monstrously fierce beasts, and loin clothed lasses reining back snarling, giant saber-toothed cats embraced the anticipation and motion Schreiber sought.
Another influence is popular wildlife artist Robert Bateman. “It was Bateman’s naturalistic works that taught me to achieve the clear sense of line and depth,” Schreiber says. “And of course, both of these men led me to (Salvador) Dali, who just explodes perspective in all directions.”
Those familiar with Schreiber’s poignantly expressive style may recall his massive murals. For High Bridge Township, the artist depicted the area’s founding and history on a series of seven, six by eight foot barn doors. Those visiting Arm & Hammer’s North Harrison Street office in Princeton may view Schreiber’s two murals portraying that firm’s 150-year history. And many Plainsboro youngsters still remember Schreiber’s Plainsboro interactive murals where children crouched on the library floor and painted their own pictures, to which Schreiber added his own abstract background.
Does the media experimentation stop with wine? Hardly. At my home Schreiber unveiled, as somewhat of an afterthought to wine painting, a more amber-toned composition, created by layering washes of Southern Tier Chocolate Stout. Yes, a beer painting. He held it to my nose and I could faintly still catch the finishes of chocolate arising from the art. I stand awed before such artistic innovation, and to Mr. Schreiber, may we all raise our glasses and toast a hearty “Shiraz!”
Painting with Wine workshop with Mark Schreiber, Old York Cellars, 80 Old York Road, Ringoes. Saturday, October 13, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. (Rain date: Sunday, October 14). $20 fee covers materials and wine tasting.
Mixing Palettes: Art and Wine Weekend. Saturday and Sunday, October 13 and 14, 12 to 5 p.m. Plein air artists invited to participate. Free. 908-284-9463 or oldyorkcellars.com.