Thursday, July 26, 2007

Vineyards and Sky at Copia

Beginning this Friday a new exhibition of paintings will be on display at Napa Valley's Copia, the American center for wine, food and the arts. Ira Yeager, a long-time resident of the area and one of this country's most prominent modern artists, has drawn together a selection of his works that explore the arresting beauty of the vineyards and sky that he knows so well.

Entitled "Vinetum and Caelum," the works in Yeager's show capture the shifting colors and textures of the vineyard environment. These are not microscopic depictions of grape vines and leaves but bold statements about how the Napa Valley imprints itself on your senses and remains part of your memory long after you've visited the area. Looking at one of Yeager's canvases (such as the one to the right, courtesy of Copia and Ira Yeager) I can feel the warm summer air, and smell the distinctive blend of soil, lavender, grape must, and old barrels that I always associate with Napa. A writer tries to convey the spirit of a place with words, and a winemaker tries to convey it through fermented grape juice. Ira Yeager's preferred medium is paint--and he succeeds in using it to get to the very essence of Napa.

What I find exceptional about Ira's work is the way that each are infused with such feeling and power. This is true whether the painting in question is of a 17th-century wine merchant (as in his label for Heidi Barrett's 2004 Amuse Bouche), a Greek landscape, a Native American profile, a humble barnyard chicken, or a vineyard under autumn skies. Part historian and part alchemist, when Ira paints he manages to transform pigments and canvas into something that lives and breathes.

Ira Yeager is a lively contributor to Napa Valley culture, and has served as the host and featured artist of the popular Napa Valley Mustard Festival. A permanent exhibition of his work is displayed on the walls of Swanson Vineyards' elegant tasting salon. As his friends know, Ira loves fine food and wine, and a dinner party at his house is always something special--marked by good conversation, delicious food, laughter, and generous hospitality. His expansive and creative personality fills every piece that he paints and every moment that he experiences in life provides inspiration for his work. I encourage you to put this exhibition on your list of things to do if you are in Napa between July 27, 2007 and October 21, 2007. A catalogue, with an introductory essay by Peter Selz, will be available if you'd like to take some of Ira's work home with you so that it can transport you back to Napa whenever you need to return.

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