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Sommelier Turns Used Corks into Works of Art

Austria resident Daniel Kubini recycles used wine corks to create lamps, portraits, figurines and more.
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Daniel Kubini has been working as a sommelier for nearly a decade in restaurants across Europe. Looking for a way to express his overload of creativity, Kubini began using wine labels and used corks to decorate wine cases, build lamps and construct miniature figurines. As his interest and art projects began to grow, he started Artofcork where he has built amazing pieces of work, such as a portrait of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury and a large-scale globe that rotates.

After being drawn in by his Instagram account, we reached out to Kubini to learn more about his work. Read about how he got started, the process of creating his art pieces and what he hopes for the future below.

(This interview has been edited for clarity.)

Kubini made miniature figures out of Champagne muselets and corks when he was starting out.
Kubini made miniature figures out of Champagne muselets and corks when he was starting out.

How did you get started making cork artwork?

Since my childhood I have always loved to build, collect, create and sculpt things, through playing with Legos, scale modeling, wood carving and so on. During my sommelier years, I started to create wine cases covered with wine labels I stripped from bottles. These were mainly done as gifts for friends and colleagues. Then I started making miniature figures out of Champagne muselets and corks.

As time went on, I wanted to produce something more original and useful, so I started to experiment making lamps with wine and Champagne corks. While researching the web I found out that there wasn't anything like this, so I thought this would be a good idea for me to pursue, especially since no one else was doing it and it could be my own. The same is true for my big bottle lamps covered in wine labels. Years later I discovered another artist doing portraits with corks and I decided to try that as well. The globe was just taking this idea to a three-dimensional level.

Daniel Kubini started collecting used corks about a decade ago.
Daniel Kubini started collecting used corks about a decade ago.

Where do you source your corks from?

I started collecting corks about 10 years ago, including from restaurants I worked in. Since then I've begun getting used corks from several wine dealers, wine fairs, tastings, restaurants and wine bars, as well as recycling stations and friends. The corks head to my workshop to get sorted by quality, color and certain exclusive brands—all by hand, of course. Currently I have about 100,000 used corks. I also have a 2-by-2.5-meter swimming pool filled with corks just for fun that I sometimes sleep in. It feels like a waterbed with [a] gentle massage.

"Globe of Corks" is made of nearly 17,000 corks and took about two years to complete.

What has been the largest piece you've done to date?

Definitely the "Globe of Corks," which took me two years from idea to reality. There is a custom-made skeleton welded from nearly 17,000 key rings. The construction of the electric motor and LED lights took one year. Another year was spent selecting, sorting and cutting every single cork, each of which is held in place by its own elasticity due my special cutting method. That means that I do not use any glue or colors—all natural upcycling.

How long does it take to create your pieces?

As mentioned above, the "Globe of Corks" was the largest project yet. Freddie Mercury was my first portrait and took about 300 hours. The smaller commercial portraits that are 100-by-150-centimeters in size each contain about 3,500 corks and take about 100 hours to create. The lamps are very different from model to model. The smallest ones can be done in three to five hours, while the larger ones can take up to 30 to 40 hours of work.

A lamp can take anywhere from three to 40 hours to complete depending on the design.
A lamp can take anywhere from three to 40 hours to complete depending on the design.

How many pieces of art have you made so far?

Most of my creations I have done for friends as birthday or Christmas presents and to promote my work. I have done four portraits and about 50 lamps. And just one of the huge globe, which is looking for a happy buyer or location to display it now.

What has been your favorite piece that you've created?

I'm a huge fan of Queen, so my heart is beating for the Freddie Mercury portrait. However, my favorite piece is the globe because it was the most complex project, combining engineering, technical solutions, loads of corks and lots of creativity—but mainly because it was my dream. It was my own idea and had never been done before.

"I'm a huge fan of Queen, so my heart is beating for the Freddie Mercury portrait."

Is this a hobby or your full-time profession?

My dream is definitely to become a full-time cork artist. I have already done several pieces for various restaurants, wine bars and hotels in Switzerland, Germany and Austria, and have sold one portrait to a customer in Russia. I'd love to create custom pieces for customers and wine-lovers or wineries. Yet, it is not easy to make a living as an artist, especially if you produce something new and unique that nobody knows about and searches for.

I have been working as sommelier for over 10 years in high-end restaurants in different countries. I enjoyed two years in the U.K. at Raymond Blanc's Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons before moving to Austria. After that I spent nearly seven years as head sommelier at Restaurant IKARUS.

What do you see in the future for yourself as it relates to your art?

I left my full-time sommelier job about two years ago to have more time to focus on my art. And this is what seems to be my challenge for the future. Not for money. Not for fame. But for the joy of doing what you love most . . .

Designing a wine cellar and creating portraits of winemakers and wine personalities like Robert Parker maybe?

Photos courtesy of Daniel Kubini.

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