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Depth of Motion: The Work of James Caprell
By Brittany Tashjian

Peering into his Harlem studio, I found artist James Caprell in the midst of a fierce attack. He was swinging wildly with both hands, his white undershirt soaked through. Moving closer, I was relieved to see that Caprell’s victim was only his canvas, bruised with a myriad of colors in rare combinations. I was halfway across the paint-slathered floor before Caprell noticed me. Stumbling away from the canvas, he wiped his hands on his chest and instruments across his thighs as he apologized for the obstacle course between us. "Sorry for the mess," Caprell said like a child waiting to be chastened for making a muck with his new paints. He flipped over two empty buckets and motioned for me to have a seat.

"You were painting with so much energy when I walked in," I said. "Is this always the case?" Caprell nodded. "Actually, today was pretty mild. It requires an enormous amount of energy to achieve the necessary movement in my work." For Caprell, the physical vigor driven by his emotional intensity is a must, but technique is just as pertinent. "You can be as emotional as you want, but if you don’t have the technique to balance the piece, the viewer will be thrown off." Caprell believes successful abstract art achieves the harmony between emotional depth and technical balance, and it is by this standard that he measures the completion of each piece.

cap1.jpg (67876 bytes) Rush, 2004, Acrylic on canvas, 60"x48"

I scanned the walls of his studio, once an abandoned warehouse, and noticed his paintings weren’t limited to one particular style. "Your paintings are all so different, how do you decide what techniques to use?" I asked as I examined the differences in each work. "I’ll apply paint to the canvas in a variety of ways. As long as I achieve the depth of motion I am looking for, I am not tied to any particular method of application," he explained. Even with all the varying styles, you could tell that each painting was a Caprell piece.

"Did you paint this with your fingers?" I asked noticing the all too smooth swirls in one of the paintings. Caprell laughed, wiping the last bit of sweat from his forehead with the lone clean spot on the back of his hand. "If I feel like using a brush, I do, if I want to throw paint I chuck it, if I want to tear the canvas I rip it down the middle. If it fails it fails, but not because I was afraid to try." Caprell stressed the importance of progression and development, never succumbing to public criticism telling him to stop doing something, or to start doing something in his art. According to Caprell, the greatest artists never stop taking chances.

Of course my next question was, "Do you have any favorite artists, any that particularly inspire you?" Caprell responded, "People have often likened my work to Jackson Pollock or Anselm Keifer, and they are definitely among my favorites, but as far as inspiration goes it doesn’t come from them." Oddly enough, Caprell usually identifies the inspiration for a piece while he’s painting, or even once he’s finished. The work in and of itself often reveals to Caprell what was working within him when he felt the urge to paint. "Take this one," Caprell said pointing at a blue painting with pink streaks and gaping holes. "It’s called ‘Life,’ and halfway through I realized it was an expression of grief over my father’s recently diagnosed heart disease." Other paintings, such as "Candy Factory", were not inspired by a specific event, but rather by a mood or an emotion, in this case, childlike jubilance. As Caprell went on to explain, I learned how important it is for him to stay aware and in tune to daily circumstances. "We have a number of inspirations both internal and external every day. My job is to stay open to these inspirations, so that they can flow onto the canvas."

cap2.jpg (57462 bytes) Electricity, 2005, Acrylic on canvas, Diptych 24"x48" each

I wanted to know one last thing before I let Caprell get back to his work. "Why do you paint?" I asked, curious as to what was behind his passion. "Aside from the fact that I enjoy it, I’ve got nothing to prove, no political agenda. I’m not trying to shock you with a disemboweled corpse from Iraq or a disturbing sexual image. I just want you to take a ride on the brighter side of self-expression."

With a working knowledge of his art, and an understanding of his love for beauty through the abstract, I left Caprell at work in his studio. Painting for the enjoyment of his viewer, Caprell is one of those rare people who finds fulfillment by using his gift to selflessly bless others. As the door latched quietly behind me, I could hear Caprell’s paint striking the canvas once again. I left the abandoned warehouse smiling, knowing that the building was far from deserted. Its’ walls were now testament to inspiration, and its floors familiar with the dance of a passionate artist.

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