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With translation assistance by Catador Itinerante, AKA Pablo Goldbarg

The artist's rendering of copper pot stills

The first time I encountered one of Gisela Garcia Gleria's paintings of pot stills, it took my breath away. She had managed to capture their mythical quality through her art, and one could almost hear the copper pots coming to life and speaking to one another in their own secret language when gazing at her works.There was something intensely theatrical about them, so it came as no surprise to learn that the Argentinian artist began her studies at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires as a scenic painter. We spoke about her transition to works of a smaller scale, her technique, and how she fell in love with the world of whiskey.

BST: So Gisela, I looked in to your background a bit and learned that you started out as a scenic painter for the theater.

Gisela: Yes, in Teatro Colon I took a course of scenic painting, and it was very fascinating, doing those big scale paintings, because of course I dont have space in my home to paint in such a way. Scenic painting is...characterized have to do it quickly, make it quickly. So I have a very anxious personality that goes very well with doing things quickly! So I adapted those techniques when I started to paint in a smaller size using acrylics, which is the medium I found I liked better. Oils are wonderful but is very humid, in Buenos Aires. It takes a long time to dry and I dont have the time. My life is very complicated so acrylic is the best medium for me.

I started to learn music at five years of age, and I had an aunt and uncle who were painters. So I used to watch them paint in my home when I was very little, and I was so fascinated by the act of painting. I had a dream when I was a little girl that after I finished my career as a musician, as a composer, I was going to learn how to paint! And Teatro Colon... I used to go to the theater, to concerts, and so I got to know people from the staff, and that's how I got appointed.

BST: That's so interesting. So were there obstacles for you as an artist moving from a large scale to a smaller format?

Gisela: No,no, no. I adapted very quickly to those changes. It just felt natural.

BST: At what point did you become inspired by the world of whiskey? It's so fascinating to me that you ended up in that space and painting people working in distilleries and painting stills and things. How did that happen?

Gisela: It started in 2019. I had just finished a solo exhibition about a land of Buenos Aires that is underwater. It's called Epecuen. I painted a lot of the landscapes of that beautiful place. And then I said to myself..what's next? I wanted to do something different. So I remember, I was standing in front of a white canvas, and I was drinking, because I liked whiskey from when I was very young. I was drinking a smoky, peaty one, and I just took my glass and said, what is this thing called whiskey? I have to paint it!

So I started this whole series about what the whiskey inspired in me, and that led me to a contact with this Scottish man, John Robertson. (Robertson is a whiskey consultant in Scotland, and an artist as well)

BST: He seems like a beautiful person.

Gisela: Yes, yes yes, he is a beautiful person. We started to talk about my paintings and about whiskey, and he just said, dont you want to do paintings of a distillery? So I said that's what I wanted to do next. And after that he proposed to me that I should paint the stills. I fell in love with the copper, the reflections, and the way the light shines on them.

A copper pot still

BST: Gisela, are you working from photographs, or did you travel to Scotland?

Gisela: Yes, I am working from photographs.. I havent been to Scotland yet!

BST: You and I should go together!

Gisela: Yes, that would be a dream... It would be awesome to be right in the distillery, painting.

BST: I could talk to you all day about this. Has doing this art made you feel a sort of kinship, with the Scottish people? And do you think there are any similarities between the the culture of Buenos Aires and Scotland?

Gisela: Well, we have similar landscapes in many ways. The South of Argentina is, well, and Pablo will say this too, is very similar in some cases. I am fascinated by the sea, and I love to paint it!

An ocean scene

The Isle of Arran Distillery

BST: So has being on this journey of painting the world of whiskey driven you to find out more about how it is made?

Gisela: Yes, yes. I began to understand better... the world of whiskey, and I began to investigate it. I visited the Whiskey Museum of Buenos Aires. That is a beautiful place you should know about.If you ever come to Buenos Aires, you must see it!

The owner, Miguel Angel Rosa is a very great lover of whiskey. He's the first Argentinian Keeper of the Quaich. (The Keeper of the Quaich is a very prestigious award given to individuals who have made significant contributions to the world of Scotch Whiskey)

BST: Oh wow, that's a great honor.

Gisela: I learned a lot from him, and I learned a lot from reading and looking into the various distilleries and their processes and people. The people inside the whiskey. It's a journey that never ends.

BST: That is so true, I totally agree! I have worked in the whiskey industry for over a decade, and I truly feel that life is not long enough to learn and experience everything there is to learn about whisky. The process of making it is both a science and an art form, which continues to be mysterious, even to people that make it everyday. There are still so many... intangibles, or things that cannot be explained. Even though we are such an industrialized world, there are still intangibles in the whiskey making process.

Gisela, one of the things I love so much about your paintings is the way you depict the stills.

Gisela: I love painting them!

BST: I can see how, as an artist, you would love their form and shape and the way they kind of fill the space around them, because they have these very powerful presences.

A lot of distillers name their pot stills for that reason. And I would add that most distillers I have known are rather superstitious!

Gisela: Yes, I love all the details that bring the stills to life. I don't know how to explain, but I feel like they have a life inside them! Which is hard to explain, because it is a machine...but I can feel the magic, the mystic..

Two copper pots with sea view

BST: Well, the original pot stills were invented by a woman named Maria Hebraea who was an alchemist between the third and fourth centuries in Mesopotamia.

Gisela: Yes! She also created the "El Bano Maria" (or, as it is known in French, the Bain Marie) It is famous for the El Bano Maria de Chocolate!

BST: I would love to see you do a painting of her. It's interesting because pot stills haven't really changed that much since that time. And I think once you start to really understand what happens inside them over the course of the distilling run, it will inform your work so much..because it has to do with the human element involved. Has painting in this specific genre taught you anything about your own artistic process that you might not have experienced painting other subjects?

Gisela: Yes, indeed. Painting the stills... I developed a technique to make them shine. I now have my own way to paint the copper and make the stills brighter..and take all the different ways the color reflects, because the color is not "plain". It has a lot of color on the inside. So I make layers: Many, many layers. I don't use a palette, I mix the colors in the canvas. So I take it with a brush... I take all the colors I want to mix and mix them while I'm painting.

BST: Fascinating...

Gisela: After that I make a layer of very, very light color for the base, usually orange with a lot of water and transparency. When it dries I go again with the mix of plain colors, A lot of layers ,until I get to the point that I can put in the lights and the shadows.

The Water of Life

Gisela's moving portrait of the great Charles Maclean

BST: So interesting. How do you find the photos to paint from?

Gisela: Sometimes the distilleries send me photos, like the Argentinian distillery Madoc, from Patagonia , but I find most of my inspiration and images online.

BST: Gisela the last thing I wanted to ask was, do you ever see yourself coming full circle and doing the whiskey art and paintings of distilleries in a large theatrical format? Because when I see your paintings, I would think distilleries would want them in their entryways..and I'd love to see them on the stage!

Gisela:...That would be great! Beautiful idea, I love it!

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