Valais, Switzerland– It is here where the highest ski slopes in the Swiss Alps, the iconic Matterhorn peak, beckon world-class snowboarders and skiers alike and where the historic River Rhône begins its portentous, serpentine descent from atop the Rhône Glacier in the northernmost part of the region, winding its way through Valais's majestic and ancient fertile valley, passing medieval towns and villages that appear sculpturally tucked alongside its bedrock-bank-path before flowing into Lake Geneva –or as the French-speaking people here call it, Lac Léman. One of the 26 cantons (member states) that make up the Swiss Confederation, Valais is the country's largest producer of wine and one of the world's best-kept secrets.
Back in the Spring of 2016, SWISS WINE VALAIS, a non-profit organization established in 2000 by local vintners, wholesalers, and cooperatives to help promote their industry, put out an open call to all Swiss artists and issued a challenge: design new labels for the following season's wines. Winning artists would get a trip to New York and participate in an exhibition of their jury-selected art at the renown Castle Fitzjohns Gallery on the Lower East Side. This is when Quiet Lunch first got news of the amazing wines from the Swiss Alpes: Turns out our good friend and fellow New Yorker, Billy The Artist, an absolute legend in this part of the world, was invited to be the creative ambassador and chief juror for the Vin du Valais Art Challenge and since he–knowing our penchant for throwing great art openings and parties– tapped the Quiet Lunch team to host the New York debut of Swiss Wine Valais. And what a smashing success it was.
The special night on the Lower East Side saw a cast of art world characters and Swiss VIP's celebrating and sampling the best of Valais: Swiss Ambassador André Schaller and Swiss Wine Valais CEO, Gérard-Philippe Mabillard were there to welcome former VP of Swatch, Pete Mager, Head of Cultural Affairs at the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York, Matthias Dettling, Sommelier Helena Jordan and Chef André Kneubühler direct from Schauenstein Castle, Sopranos actor Federico Castelluccio, artist and writer Anthony Haden-Guest, internationally acclaimed curator Raul Zamudio, art historian Peter Hastings Falk, art consultant Donnalynn Patakos, artist Judy Rifka, and DJs Oliver Stumm and Dominique Clausen who, along with Serge Becker, own Swiss bistro, Café Select, provided the Chäschüechile and other Swiss delectables. Swiss DJ Greg XL set the vibe for the evening as Patrick McMullan photographed. And there, smack-dab in the middle of it all like a wizard conductor orchestrating, was Billy The Artist tending every VIP guest and event detail perfectly.
We've known Billy The Artist, or BTA as he's called by friends, a long time. Back in the late 80's when he first began as an artist in New York City, SAMO tags were still prevalent and Keith Haring was still alive. And that sparked something in him. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati's prestigious College-Conservatory of Music (only 16 students worldwide are accepted), BTA arrived in Manhattan ready to pursue acting. But the grit and color of the city back then–when trains were still covered entirely with grafitti– opened his eyes to this wildly exciting and burgeoning new art form, to street art especially. BTA wanted in. And from the moment he picked up a spray can and began tagging walls in the East Village neighborhood–his new home– Broadway rehearsals no longer had the same draw. Painting became his destiny.
His first group show in Soho featured Kaws, Ron English, and Anthony Freda. His second was with Ryan McKinley and Crash. His first big break came when asked to paint sixty feet of ceiling murals for a new, groundbreaking musical called RENT. By 2009, Swatch had tapped Billy The Artist to design two Swatch watches. Unveiled during the Venice Biennale in front an audience of 30,000 art world enthusiasts, the event would turn Billy The Artist into a worldwide art phenom, cementing his reputation and stature in Switzerland and beyond. And making that evening's event extra memorable, Swatch projected BTA's colorful trademark designs onto every building surrounding the Piazza San Marco (see picture).
The Spring event in New York came and went with the season's rains and Summer's arrival soon signaled Fall's harvest fast approaching when wines that have been maturing in oak barrels the size of SUVs now needed bottling. And labels affixed. Swiss Wine Valais CEO, Gérard-Philippe Mabillard, was busy making plans immediately after New York to showcase the new labels and wines during the Foire Du Valais, the largest and most attended country-like fair in the entire canton that happens each October with one quarter of a million people attending to sample the wines and flavors of their beloved homeland. In a massive tent suitable for an art fair in Miami, with a cool breeze blowing down from some mountaintop in the near distance, the young Swiss artist who won the Vin Du Valais Art Challenge, Marco Heer, Julien Cortey, Loris Briguet, Kol, Sebastien Delabays, and Camille Pasquier took center stage and were applauded by their fellow countrymen–and Billy The Artist– for contributing spectacularly to the promotion of the ancestral heritage of this place, to celebrate a product as old as civilization itself and one upheld and defended here with a fierce, Swiss-pride loyalty –their raison d'être. Indeed, this land's magnificent joie de vivre is bottled for all to discover.
Native New Yorker. Artist. Publisher. Curator. Writer. Loves jumping into other people’s dreams.