Palatable Mediums: Amelia Fais Harnas & Ernie Button





“If we sip the wine, we find dreams coming upon us out of the imminent night.” D.H. Lawrence

History is littered with creative artists famed for altering the cognitive process to coerce the genius within, but in Palatable Mediums we endeavour to shine a light on the avant-garde artists who use alcohol as a medium, rather than as a means to unfetter their Dionysiac imaginations.

There are countless old wives tales about the best ways to conceal wine stains but none of them are as creative or as beautiful as the stunning portraits created by Amelia Fais Harnas. The unconventionally brilliant artist, born in Elmira, New York, has forsaken traditional canvas and paint for staining fabric with red wine instead, using wax to create multi-toned portraits that are “a blend of chaos and control”.
 
In his striking series Vanishing Spirits, Phoenix-based photographer Ernie Button takes transcendental photographs of the dried remains of single malt Scotch whisky. Literally finding his inspirations at the bottom of a glass, he experiments with Scotch residues as seen through different coloured lighting, creating the beautiful illusion of crescendoing landscapes that “reference the celestial, as if the image was taken of space."

We tracked down each artist, individually, to discuss their respective careers, the creative process and the inspirations behind their stunning artwork…

Amelia Fais Harnas
 
 

“I drink while I work on the wine stains. I have one glass for me and one glass for the portrait. I just have to make sure that I remember which is which.”
 
“The idea came to me very slowly, over the course of a year and a half, in a succession of tiny flashes of inspiration from watercolour, silk painting, embroidery, and batik. I had also seen artists using coffee as a wash in ink drawings, which perhaps triggered the idea of using wine. Not to mention that I grew up in the Finger Lakes.”
 
“Wine is so firmly rooted in centuries of history, culture, and symbolism. It is sacred; it is profane. It can be used to celebrate life, and it can be used to ruin lives. Using it as an artistic medium is effortless: red wine can have such a beautiful colour, and of course, can closely resemble the colour of blood. All of these things combined turn portraits into rituals, where imbibing becomes imbuing."
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
“The process of creating a wine stain is actually quite exhausting just enough careful control that a portrait may be created, but not so much control that the wine can’t do as it really pleases on a piece of cloth, which is to bleed all over the place."
 
“The process is much like batik, where I go back and forth between blocking out areas using wax and building up colour by repeated stains. Wine stains are highly experimental, so I feel like I’m constantly fumbling in the dark and making it up as I go along. This can be very exciting, yes, but on bad days, it’s just plain daunting.”
 
“It brings all of that beautiful intangible stuff into the portrait, like energy, spontaneity, allure, and charisma. Plus, as much as it is difficult, I am ever grateful for the push and pull to get better and stay original.”
 
“I started with a ten dollar bottle of French Cahors, and I’ve discovered that old vine and old world wine seems to work best. I try to find wine that dries into a nice deep blood red colour. Carmenère also works nicely. I try to find a bottle that is reasonably priced with extremely low residual sugar that is pretty high in tannins.”
 
“I was extremely fortunate to grow up with parents who are both artists in a small town with a tight-knit family of artists. My artist heroes are those whom I know personally, who have made a difference on a local level, simply being who they are and doing what they love.”
 
 
 
“I am a little infatuated with Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, who work with sound and sensory pieces, after having experienced their two works at dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel a couple of summers ago. I’m a sucker for magical moments, and I feel like music, performance, and film are best for that.”
 
“I love a no-nonsense Pinot Noir from Oregon and I’d like to share it with Jacques Costeau, so prolific in such a variety of things, Josephine Baker, the epitome of a muse, and Jim Carrey, he seems smart and grounded for being so ridiculous. I doubt we’d get bored.”
 
To see more examples of Amelia Fais Harnas' work or to contact the artist directly, visit www.trulyamelia.com
 
Ernie Button
 
 
 
“When I am working, I don’t drink. I am focused on the creative process and want to be as sharp as possible; however the dried whisky has a nice smell that fills the room.”
 
“I feel fortunate that I stumbled onto this phenomenon. I am a fan of observing my world and the things that are happening around me; noticing the smaller details that may be ignored or overlooked. I find it infinitely fascinating that a seemingly ‘clear’ liquid can dry and leave these beautiful patterns and lines on a consistent basis.”
 
“The idea for this project occurred while putting a used Scotch glass into the dishwasher. I noted a film on the bottom of a glass and when I inspected closer, I noted these fine, lacy lines filling the bottom.”
 
“It’s a little like snowflakes in that every time the Scotch dries; the glass yields different patterns and results. I have used different colour lights to add ‘life’ to the bottom of the glass, creating the illusion of landscape, terrestrial or extra-terrestrial.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
“Some of the images reference the celestial, as if the image was taken of space; something that the Hubble telescope may have taken or an image taken from space looking down on Earth. The circular image references a drinking glass, typically a circle, and what the consumer might see if they were to look at the bottom of the glass.”
 
“The illusion of landscape refers to both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial. Pictures from the Hubble telescope have always been beautiful and fascinating to me. It was just a coincidence that some of the images ended up looking like outer space. Once I realised that the Scotch images could be more celestial, that imagery started to influence the project resulting in more images having that otherworldly feel to them. I can’t manipulate the lines but I do manipulate the shape of the sample by moving the glass, using different glasses that have different curved surfaces.”
 
“The biggest challenge is the randomness of the dried whisky; not every result is visually interesting. It really is the residue that is making these images. If I leave too much, it will dry muddy, not clear. If you can still see the amber colour of the Scotch you’ve left too much.”
 
“What I’ve found through the years is that this technique will work with any aged whiskey however it will not work with un-aged whiskey or moonshine. So the rings may have something to do with the aging process in the barrels as well as the components that make up whisky.”
 
“I’ve tried drying wine, cognac, beer, champagne, moonshine, vodka and rum. Rum left a little bit of a ring so there may be some potential there but the others did not leave the pattern that whiskey does.”
 
 
 
“The artists whose work I like and admire sometimes feels too numerous to list. It’s overwhelming how many talented and creative people there are out there. My wife and I just returned from a trip to Italy and the sheer volume of skilled artisans through the centuries is staggering; from the architects, to the wood workers and sculptors to the painters. Regarding photographers’ work that I admire they would include Todd Hido, Robert and Shana Parkeharrison, Thomas Michael Alleman, David Levinthal, Michale Kenna, Thomas Struth, Mitch Dobrowner. Carl Warner is an artist that uses food to create images. I found his work a few years into my project Cerealism where I took portraits and created landscapes out of breakfast cereal.”
 
To see more examples of Ernie Button's work or to contact the artist directly, visit www.erniebutton.com
 
 
 
 

Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 

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