London has long been considered a mecca of art and culture, so it is no surprise that it tends to poach talented artists from all over the world who want to be closer to the action. This is certainly what happened to Conrad Engelhardt, a California-born artist who relocated to Shoreditch, a neighborhood of East London known for its' eclectic and alternative art scene. Engelhardt takes the appreciation of European culture to a whole new level with his art, however, by combining his knowledge of chemistry, his passion for wine, and his overwhelming skill as a visual artist. In simple terms, his artworks can be described as wine cork mosaics, stunning photorealistic images of everything from the human form to geometric illusions, but words often fall short when describing art, and Engelhardt's style is no exception.
Nude Woman Lying Down
The tonalities of the image come solely from the coloration of the wine cork, which is why his color schemes are generally restricted to seemingly infinite shades of red, pink, purple, yellow, white, and brown. His extensive knowledge of chemistry has instilled a deep love and understanding of wine, particularly how hundreds of unpredictable chemicals come together to create the color, taste, and aroma of wine. Engelhardt wanted to combine the symphony of natural interactions that create wine with the fine arts in some way as a means of bridging his passions, and this stunning style was the result.
The limitations of his color palette do not seem to affect his choice of subject, and the slightly muted colors create a warm and intimate feel in many of his works. Conversely, the occasional splashes of vibrant red or pink corks stand out in stark contrast to the other elements of the image, adding sensational depth to certain pieces, like you find in his homage to Marily Monroe.
Lover's Games (Work in Progress)
It takes a highly skilled draughtsman to imagine the desired result of a finished artwork and begin to painstakingly construct some version of it centimeter by centimeter with limited materials. The amount of time and energy involved in creating Engelhardt's work is immense, but the final product is well worth the investment. At first glance, the process may seems like a novelty, but when considering the philosophical symbolism of using wine corks to create art, a far deeper intention is revealed.
Wine corks are typically disposed of after being popped from the bottle, or perhaps temporarily saved to re-cork an unfinished wine for those less avid drinkers. At the very most, the cork is inspected, smelled, or fingered briefly by connoisseurs before inevitably reaching the bottom of a garbage can. Engelhardt takes the overlooked material of a cork, which is a pigmented fingerprint of its' parent wine, and breathes new, perhaps even eternal, life into it. Alternative media choices are common in the modern art market, but I don't think the same effect of Engelhardt's work could be duplicated in any medium besides cork bark and old wine.
Butterfly on Flower
Back of Seated WomanI first referred to his mosaics as photorealistic, and when considering the natural limitations of his chosen media (wine corks), these works are as close to photorealism as he can achieve. However, his work could just as easily be described as a take on Impressionism. As with that revolutionary 19th century movement, which is often considered as the watershed moment of modern art, when Engelhardt's images are seen up close, they look like a mess of disconnected dots or swaths of color, reminiscent of Monet's Impressionistic lilies or even the Pointillism of Seurat.
When you back up from the work, or at least roll your computer chair away from the screen, the composite image becomes clear, and your eyes make the shift between specificity and general impression. He suggests shapes and figures with his media, and our brain's understanding of the human form or a flower does the rest by filling in the blanks. Engelhardt's connection between the natural world and art through the use of wine as pigment also harkens back to the Impressionists fascination with capturing the essence of the natural world in their paintings.
One of my favorite works by Engelhardt is the geometric piece entitled "Perspective" which is astounding in that the artist achieves such visual depth and texture that it actually tricks the eye. The cumulative skills involved in all of his work is impressive enough, but this final dash of artistic complexity sealed my judgement of Engelhardt as a gifted and visionary new talent.
His profoundly unique style has not gone unnoticed, and Conrad Engelhardt has enjoyed numerous features in prominent venues around London, including a triptych (seen below) hanging in Lutyens, a well-known restaurant near St. Paul's Cathedral in Central London. Also, Engelhardt recently had a very successful exhbition in Hoxton at The Arch, another burgeoning center for art in the city, and his work was featured at the Other Art Fair, the biannual festival of new art held in London. He is already planning for the next installment of the Other Art Fair in October which he has been invited to, and he is fielding some flirtatious advances from Michelin-rated restaurants that want to hang his work on their walls.
Woman Lying on Couch
Whether you love wine, women, both, or neither, there is no denying that Engelhardt represents a powerful and fascinating new talent in the British art scene. As a wine drinker and a fan of the fairer sex, there is nothing about his work that does't make my mouth water and my mind reel like a Pavlovian response to beauty and booze. If having that response to great art is wrong, than I don't want to be right.
To get properly drunk on Engelhardt's work or to collect one of his masterful mosaics, visit his website at CorkByCork.
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All images are subject to copyright by the artist.