Wine and dine

Artist who specializes in portraits of cats and wine

Michelle DiFonzo has created 
paintings of cats drinking wine in various locations, including Reno.

Michelle DiFonzo has created paintings of cats drinking wine in various locations, including Reno.

A group of colorful cats, traveling around the world getting drunk from red wine all started out with a woman. Well, two women to be exact.

Michele DiFonzo, a spontaneous palette painter of Reno, is known for landscape portraits. She gave her creativity a bit of a twist one day and ended up painting a woman drinking a glass of wine, and called it “Cheers.”

This portrait then inspired her to paint people's faces drinking wine until she decided she wanted to try this theme with animals.

“I just wanted to do a bunch of cats,” DiFonzo said.

That's how the Wine-ing Cats were born. These furry and vivid cats have partied it up from Paris, to San Francisco and to Reno.

“I called them the Wine-ing Cats because they're having wine. But they're not whining—they're wine-ing.”

DiFonzo, 62, is one of the featured artists for this year's Artown. These cats put the internet cats to shame. The sceneries are brought to life with vibrant colors and each cat has a distinctive personality. But DiFonzo hopes her paintings will bring a lighthearted energy for those who see them.

“It's rewarding to have somebody look at your art and laugh and smile,” she said. “I like to see people delighted with it. It makes me feel good and it lifts them up. I think there's so much dark stuff going on in the world and this is humorous and fun. It hits their funny bone—and that's very satisfying to me.”

This is DiFonzo's first time participating in Artown, and her Wine-ing Cats paintings will be featured throughout the month of July. Her distinct style can be easily spotted in her paintings and also in her attire.

Her razored black hair presents a rocker vibe, which was accentuated by her all-black outfit—except for the leopard print shirt underneath her shawl—at the interview. Her eye shadow blended in nicely to match the brown and yellow colored pattern on her shirt.

DiFonzo also paints landscapes and collages. A few of her paintings were featured in Renown and local restaurants such as Great Full Gardens. She also painted a portrait of Sparks Mayor Geno Martini. Local shops such as Paper Moon, Ryrie's and Home 23 sell blank cards with Wine-ing Cats on the cover.

DiFonzo is featured in this year's Artown because her artwork is whimsical, but she also goes down different avenues with her skills. She invents as she goes.

“I don't like to paint in a way where it looks like I knew exactly what I was doing,” she said. “I like the struggle behind the painting. It's more passionate.”

DiFonzo was born in San Francisco and raised in Los Angeles. She's enjoyed painting and art since she was a child.

“I remember in elementary school, I would always get so excited when the teacher would hand out colored paper,” DiFonzo said. She never understood why no one else got as excited as she did.

She's been living in Reno for about 37 years. Before going to a full-time painting career, she worked as a waitress at The Atlantis and has been taking care of her beloved father after her mother passed away last August. She also has a daughter living in Seattle who does mural paintings.

DiFonzo also has a cat of her own named Sophie. She's a furry fawn-colored cat who seems to be filled with so much peppiness. The picture DiFonzo showed me was a worthy selfie of Sophie just comfortably curled up on top of her head.

“I come out of the shower and the first thing she does is jump on top of my head,” she said.

The artist has a love for wine tasting, especially when it comes to Chardonnay. But in her paintings, all the cats are drinking either Pinot Noir or a Zinfandel. DiFonzo is now considering whether she'll have the cats drink several different wines in the future.

“I like the red because it's a lot more noticeable,” she said. “Most people seem to be drinking red wine a lot.”

The Wine-ing Cats project is going beyond Artown. Her latest portrait has cats drinking wine in Hawaii. DiFonzo said this is her 11th Wine-ing Cats painting, and she is planning to paint another one to publish a calendar. DiFonzo said she's been thinking about where the next destination could be for the cats. So far, she's come up with London, Las Vegas and New York.

“I should probably do one in Catalina,” DiFonzo said. “That way, it would make sense because the cats are drinking wine in Cat-alina.”

Her future projects also include cats drinking during holidays and cats drinking through history. Difonzo brings her humorous side to Artown with the Wine-ing Cats, which definitely brings a shine of light into somebody's day.

“Sometimes, I look at my work at night and I'll look at some of the cats,” DiFonzo said. “I'll start laughing to myself.”

You can meet Michele DiFonzo and see her Wine-ing Cats work from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Dreamer's Café and Deli on July 12 and at the Art Paws event on July 20 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the McKinley Arts and Culture Center. DiFonzo's work will be on display at Dreamer's Café and Deli from July 1 to 31 during store hours.