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Vickroy: Channeling my inner van Gogh

If you go ...

Vino van Gogh classes are held at restaurants across the Chicago area. Costs average $38, including all art supplies and instruction. Beverages and food are additional. Upcoming local classes include Aurelio’s in Plainfield on Nov. 11, and Tap House Grill in Lemont on Nov. 18.

For a complete listing and more information, visit www.vinogogh.com/chicag/

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Updated: December 4, 2013 6:23AM



“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.”

Galileo

Life is a journey, filled with curiosity, longing and, for some of us, a need to try new things.

So it was that I set off to find my inner van Gogh at a recent wine and paint party in Orland Park. And because she is infinitely more creative than me, I brought my youngest daughter along.

On a rainy Wednesday evening, in the party room of Barraco’s Italian Restaurant, artists from Vino van Gogh, a Chicago company that brings art classes to restaurants across the Midwest, set up shop. A canvas, an apron, a palette of acrylic paints, four brushes and a cup of water were set at each station.

The mission is to introduce or, in the case of some of the night’s participants, reinforce that creative spirit in a relaxed setting — one where wine or martinis or pasta dinners were at the ready.

This evening’s lesson would be Vincent van Gogh’s “Walk by River,” a moody, stormy, colorful nod to autumn along the Seine.

Upon seeing the finished work, meant to be our inspiration, naturally I gasped and said something to the effect of “As if ... ”

Other than art history, I’ve never taken an art class. But, like many, I’ve long fancied myself a tortured soul. That inner turmoil caused me to embrace the Dutch post-Impressionist van Gogh way back when I was a kid.

I have a framed copy of “Irises” in my bedroom. When we visited the Musee d’Orsay last spring, I had to take a moment to pull myself together after seeing my favorite van Gogh, “Thatched Cottages at Cordeville.” I even have Don McLean’s “Starry, Starry Night” on my iPod.

But is having the spirit of a conflicted artist — torn between reality and what should be — enough to make one nimble with a paintbrush?

As it turns out, yes.

Artist Abby Adams took all 26 of this night’s participants step by step through the process, explaining brushes and brushstrokes, pressure and movement along the way.

While she told us how to mix colors and how to set our horizon, artist Kelsey Ransom walked the room, advising, encouraging and nurturing our sensitive egos.

Maybe it was the instruction. Maybe it was the company — so many helpful, eager, friendly folks just enjoying the experience. Or maybe it was the wine. But almost immediately I came to believe this is how art is meant to be learned.

“Isn’t this wonderful?” said Grace Mueller, of Homer Glen.

She brought her friend, Sandy Fera, along. The two met when they worked in Homer Community Consolidated School District 33C in Homer Glen.

Mueller was the music teacher.

“My room was loud,” she said.

Fera was the librarian.

“I liked things quiet,” she said.

They became fast friends and have stayed that way for 30 years. They’ve taken many art classes together.

“This is just a super night out,” Fera said.

That’s what Brenda Schmidt was aiming for when she founded Vino van Gogh in 2011.

“I had participated in a similar program while on vacation and had such a good time,” she said. “It’s meant to be a fun night out.”

A Northwestern University grad, Schmidt started the mobile art program in Chicago, even though she now lives in Indianapolis. It has been so popular, she has expanded the operation to five other Midwestern states.

“It’s good for people who want a new experience. It’s good for local restaurants. And it’s good for art,” she said.

Eighty percent of the participants never have taken an art class, Schmidt said.

Throughout the evening, as Adams talked us through how to create clouds, shadows and even the figure of a man holding an umbrella, people chatted, complimenting each other’s work and sometimes even their own.

“This is so going on my ceiling,” one woman said. “I want to look at it when I wake up in the morning.”

I had to wonder how different van Gogh’s life might have been if he’d been able to paint in such a comforting, inspirational environment.

Jessica Goldfarb, of Tinley Park, and Kim Bieniek and Lisa Weston, both of New Lenox, signed up for the class because they had a coupon from LivingSocial. It was their first time attending a wine/art party.

Afterward, Bieniek, a teacher at Lane School in Alsip, said, “It was different, fun. I’d definitely do it again.”

It was John Dillenburg’s second time participating in a Vino van Gogh event.

“I love it. It’s relaxing; you paint, have a sip of wine, paint,” the New Lenox resident said.

Was it me or did the 21/2 hours fly by? Afterward, hardly a soul was not impressed with their newfound talent.

Clearly, one painting does not a master make. But now that I know I can do it, I can’t wait to do it again.

It’s been said that van Gogh was misunderstood, often shunned and likely went to his grave a lonely man at age 37.

I’m not sure if he’d be happy knowing untrained wannabes were attempting to re-create the masterpieces he slaved over, although I did read recently that his message was a simple one: love. He loved beauty, nature, art. So I venture to guess that he might be impressed with our desire to emulate that.

With the right glass of wine, I’m almost positive he would be.



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