Painting and Documentaries

Working on my documentaries left me with little time to paint for a few years, but the Dinastia Vivanco Wine Museum (Museo de la Cultura del Vino) offered me an exhibtion opening on March 22, running until June 17, and I’ve been working hard on that for over a year. It will be made up of about 15 paintings, works on paper and digital prints of amphora, vases and other vessels, some of which can be seen here –

The Vivanco family history is subject of my 2011 film , and the exhibition will include a video art piece using the same material from my documentary, but re-edited with a more impressionistic, looser narrative and relying much more on the imagery, sounds and music. (The film itself will be screened at the Cervantes Institute in New York on May 18.)

Some 25,000 people are expected to visit while the exhibition is on, something quite exciting in itself.

Edward Lucie-Smith kindly wrote the text, Spanish translation in the invite below:


Zev Robinson, a Canadian/British painter, photographer and filmmaker, is multi-talented. He has a great affinity for the world of wine. In recent years he has traveled many thousands of kilometers, visiting the different Spanish wine regions, also the Duero region in Portugal. There can now be few English speakers who know this part of the world, with it complex culture and customs, better than he does.

As a lover of museums, he was particularly enchanted by the great wine museum founded by the Dinastia Vivanco, and it is therefore especially appropriate that his work as an artist should now be displayed in this setting.

Spanish art has always been particularly strong in painters of still life – one thinks, for example, of the painters associated with this genre of art during the so-called Golden Age, among them Juan Sánchez Cotán and Juan van der Hamen y Léon. One also thinks of  he slightly later Luis Meléndez.

It is in fact Meléndez who is most vividly recalled by some of Zev Robinson’s paintings of vessels used for wine that are being exhibited here. They seem like stripped-down versions of Meléndez’s compositions, with ancillary objects edited out.

Meléndez is masterful in the way he represents the texture and weight of quite ordinary, everyday things. We see the same thing here.  What it has to do with is the Spanish reverence for the everyday. For Spanish eyes, and especially for Spanish painters, everyday experience has close, mysterious links with the transcendental. A supreme example of this is what I think of as the greatest Spanish masterpiece in a British collection – The Water Seller of Seville by Diego Velázquez, now at Apsley House in London. In the foreground of the composition there is a large, verily plain jar. Another jar, smaller and a little by more ornate, appears further back in the composition. Both have a magical solidity and presence.

It is true that the association there, in the Velázquez, is with a very different, non-intoxicating fluid. Yet we must also remember that both water and wine have been considered to have a special, often twinned, status in human culture. The Gospel of St. John, for instance, offers the story of the Marriage at Cana, where Christ turns water into wine.

Zev Robinson’s paintings of bottles and jars have, despite their solidity, a slightly recessive, mystical quality, which suggests their function as containers for something that is simultaneously everyday and sacred. Where they differ from similar vessels in the work of Meléndez and Velázquez is that, while they are in appearance solid, skillfully rendered representations of fact, they are also at the same time just a little bit elusive, as if they had ambitions to become ghosts of themselves.

Obviously to create this impression, this visual ambiguity, requires a great deal of thought, as well as a great deal of skill. An important part of the process is imagining what the vessel contains, or might contain. It’s the wine you can’t see that gives the image its magic.


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