By Ryah Cooley
Sometimes an artist needs a glass or two of the alcoholic beverage of their choice to really get the creative juices flowing. Los Osos artist Kirby Banta takes a different approach, opting instead to let a particularly fine vintage of cabernet or zinfandel flow all over the page.
"I came home one night and just started painting," Banta said.
The sommelier, artist, and former Coast Guard electrician's mate's work is currently on display at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles as part of the Veterans' Voices show, which features art from local veterans.
After serving in the Coast Guard, Banta ended up working as a bartender at a time when wine was coming into its own in California.
"If you wanted to stay in the bar business you had to know wine," Banta said.
From there, Banta ended up opening the first wine tasting shop in Morro Bay, the Morro Bay Wine Seller, in 1999. He sold the business in 2001 to work in Napa, but the siren song of the Central Coast called to him and now Banta works as a server at Justin Vineyards and Winery.
Banta used to make woodcarvings, but hadn't done much in the way of art since his son was born some 19 years ago. About eight months ago, Banta was pressing cork imprints from favorite wines along with his notes for his own records when an extra dribble turned into another and suddenly Banta was painting. Even now that his craft has become more refined, the artist still uses just a cork, a dropper, and a Q-tip to make his pieces, and no two are alike.
"What I'm trying to do is bring the bottle's contents to life," Banta said.
He sometimes opens the bottle and lets the wine breathe for a few days or maybe longer to get different shades of reds and purples for his pieces. Banta often paints scenes from the wine life: a man harvesting grapes, wine being poured into a glass, and so on.
"I get images in my head, so really my everyday life inspires me," he said.
While Banta uses many varieties of wine in his art, he does have his favorites.
"I like the syrah grape," Banta said. "I like the intensity of the color. It does well in this valley. I prefer big reds, and it translates well to paper."
It might take Banta an evening to paint, but the wine on the paper could take weeks to properly dry.
"Wine is an organic, living thing," Banta said.Right now Banta paints exclusively with reds, but he is looking into possibly painting with white wine on black paper. He also makes and sells pre-stained coasters with something like the imprint of a wine glass or the impression of dribbles of vino here and there.
"It takes the work out of it for everyone," Banta said.
Banta is excited by his new foray into art and wine, and he hopes others will share the feeling.
"It's kind of a new genre," Banta said. "It's a way of bringing the bottle's contents some emotion, some life."
Supporting local veterans
Artist Kirby Banta's work will be displayed as part of the Veterans' Voices exhibit, on display at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles through Jan. 29. Banta's coasters, prints, and originals will be for sale, ranging from $30 to $500. Visit studiosonthepark.org for more information.