N.Y. Artist Honors Writers with Whiskey Bottle Art

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When Andres Gallardo Jr. got to the empty Jack Daniels bottle that would eventually bear the portrait of legendary writer Mark Twain and become a fundamental piece in his next art show, Words in Whiskey, the artist knew exactly what quote to use to adorn the glass.

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough,” the line reads. There is probably no quote better than that to have been used in Gallardo’s art show earlier this month, which focused on the much romanticized relationship between spirits and writers. Gallardo produced 15 custom-made bottles for the event, which was held July 12 in Brooklyn, that featured classic and contemporary writers’ portraits on painted whiskey bottles with words from their works.

“I like whiskey, and it’s my personal drink of choice,” the mixed-media artist from Brentwood, N.Y., said. “I read a bunch of poetry by famous authors about whiskey and how much they enjoyed it, and they created masterpieces. I decided to take a whiskey bottle and paint on it and have it basically be an ode to writers.”

In addition to Twain, Gallardo also created bottles that featured E.E. Cummings and contemporary poets Aja Monet, Joshua Bennett and Saul Williams. Jasmine Mans, a poet who has appeared on HBO’s Brave New Voices and a friend of Gallardo’s, stopped by the show and did an impromptu performance feet away from the bottle that displayed her painted likeness.

Much of Gallardo’s previous portfolio was inspired by other artists and their work as well. He’s created portraits of artist Frida Kahlo and poet Maya Angelou after her death in May. In 2013 the artist started leaving pieces of art, or “gems,” in different areas around Long Island and disclosed their locations via a picture on his social media sites. His canvas often changed, leaving portraits done on vinyl records and other recycled material all the way from New York to Miami. The scavenger hunts led to an increased Instagram following from 300 to 5,000. When Kanye West dropped Yeezus last year, Gallardo went around dropping gems inspired by the rapper. More recently, Gallardo proclaimed #nationalgemday to be July 6 (in honor of Frida Kahlo’s birthday) and encouraged artists to leave special works around their hometowns.

“To see the feedback was incredible,” he said about National Gem Day. “There were people in Sydney, Australia doing it. There were people in Toronto and Dallas hashtagging #nationalgemday with my name in it. I was like, ‘Wow, this is huge.’”

When he began work for the Words in Whiskey exhibit, it took the 25-year-old Gallardo about four hours to finish one bottle. The process involved choosing an image of a poet or writer that the artist liked and creating a small stencil of it. Gallardo then painted the image on his canvas – either a Maker’s Mark or Jack Daniels bottle – with acrylic and spray paints. Symbols from the poem that inspired the piece were added, and finally, Gallardo painted the words – joining the new visual piece with written art and a splash of whiskey.

“It’s very relaxing and calming and gives you focus on the task as an artist,” Gallardo said about the spirit. “It’s not a moment of debauchery with whiskey, it’s this classy feeling about the love of art and it’s sort of this fuel to your artistic fire.”