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The Champagne Journal

Bethon Vineyard Rhythm Study 4, Oil on Paper 39" X 31"

Bethon Vineyard Rhythm Study 4, Oil on Paper 39″ X 31″

An artist’s work speaks for itself. So I don’t usually talk about my work. For this exhibit however, I find chattering going on in my head about the work, about the commission, about the trip.The story begins with Alain Lacourte, one of the owners of Angelbeck’s in Upper Montclair, who delights in the world of wines. Each year, in a blending of art and wine, he invites a local artist to create a signature label for an exclusive vintage.

When he asked me to do this year’s, I first thought that this is really out of my realm. But Alain’s enthusiasm is contagious. The label would be for the firm’s Millennium champagne. I’d go to the vineyard in Bethon, a tiny ancient village about two hours east of Paris, outside Epernay between Rheims and Troyes, in the heart of the Champagne region. The maker, Monsieur Gruet, would be there to tell me about the vineyard, about the seasons, about the landscape. I accepted.

Bethon lies amid gentle, fertile hills. I arrived just before the harvest, the “golden time” after the summer’s heat when the grapes became sweet and the shadows at the beginning and the end of the day lengthen and turn violet. Every inch of land that is capable of growing grapes, does. The rest is a patchwork of lavender, jade, ochre, mars violet and sap-green farm fields.

But as a painter, my heart sank. The landscape is too “pretty” with no drama or singular features. Just miles of long rolling vineyards, punctuated by wooded windbreaks. Very linear – but the lines in no way trace the contour of the land; instead they mark countless farm plots and lie at a riot of odd angles to one another, as if a patchwork-quilt maker had gone mad.
Finding the right “voice” for the landscape too quite a bit of experimenting. You can see this in the “Rhythm Studies Series” where each of the 500 lines making up the piece had to be accurate. It was very constraining. Several people have commented that it “does not look like your work.” But the nature of painting “en plein Air” is to let the landscape speak for itself.

Three painting sites were chosen: One out in the vineyards facing the front and side of the church perched on a hill overlooking the village; the second looked out from the church dooryard; and the third directly opposite the first site with the back of the church facing us across the vineyards.
Reflecting the original “scroll” concept for the label and the extended plane of the landscape, much of the work in the show is long and horizontal. For example, the graphite panorama #397 chinese scroll offers an expression of this theme with a sweeping view from the third site.
As I write this, I am there – I can smell the earth, feel the slippery soil between my toes. I acclimated more than I thought possible. It is part of me now.– Catherine Kinkade.

If you’d like a copy of the complete journal e-mail me.