Transforming Foregrounds, Figures and Forms

POVarts in the Studio with Melissa Capasso

POVarts was lucky to interview Melissa Capasso in her studio and see her show Transformer, a solo exhibition of expressive and formally robust paintings and drawings at Sweet Lorraine Gallery by Melissa Capasso.

POVarts: What are the core concepts, materials and techniques of your current solo show Transformer at Sweet Lorraine Gallery in Brooklyn?

MC: I’m working in drawing and painting; charcoal for drawing, and for painting, mostly oil but also some acrylic. The core concepts of the  show concern shape-shifting, both in forms and genres. The works in the show use representational images that kind of change in shape so an anatomical form can change, or is in the process of changing, to a still-life or landscape. Visually, this creates a kind of indeterminate, dynamic dream state.

Slip of the Tongue, 2019, painting by Melissa Capasso

POVarts: I notice that you have some smaller preliminary works in the studio, is that how you usually work?

MC: No – not usually. I start working on small panels when I feel burned out in the studio, and  I’ll work on them pretty intensely in order to work through my obstacles. And that process will hopefully bring new paintings into the body of work — either with the panels being the finished work or with them serving as the basis for larger works. For the show, the larger paintings on wood panels started as smaller panel paintings, which is unusual for me.

POVarts: Tell us about how you are creating your visual vocabulary in this show.

MC:  I am always concerned about expanding my visual language and avoiding becoming dependent on the language I already have in place. At the same time, the visual vocabulary is not premeditated or by design — it generally develops organically through the improvisation of the painting process, drawing from my own experience, memory and visual history. In the painting “Bergman”, for example, I wound up incorporating images that felt like visual responses to certain themes he (Ingmar Bergman) addressed in his films.

Bergman by Melissa Capasso

POVarts: When and how did you know you were going to be an artist?

MC: I always knew. From the time I was really, really young, I always knew that I was going to be an artist. 

POVarts: Describe a typical/ideal day at the studio?

MC: A typical, ideal day, is really early, like 7:30am here before I start interacting with the world and the first 4 or 5 hours are hopefully productive. And then in the afternoon, I usually take a break and pick up my daughter or start making phone calls and doing things I have to do for the day. But then I go back to work in the late afternoon, and it’s a period of nice isolation.  I typically work on three paintings at a time. I hope to keep my studio practice as a well-oiled machine however I teach so my week is broken into various work related responsibilities as well.

POVarts: What kind of response do you hope to elicit with your artwork from the viewer?

MC: I hope that my work is approachable. I know that some of the forms can be hard. I hope that it reaches out to the viewer so that they can explore the type of representational imagery that is happening in the work, and then the work lifts them into their own place.

POVarts: If you could be in a group show with any artists alive or dead, name the first 3 that come to mind (and why)?

MC: I am always looking at different artists. I reference a lot of art historical images, artists and periods within my work. Usually they are extensions of a conversation I’m having within the work, providing a reference based on an art historical time period that I feel relates to my work. Or sometimes it can be just to give homage to that person- to tell them I love them and am thankful for their work. But I don’t have a top ten.

POVarts: I feel like Amy Sillman, Philip Guston, and Carroll Dunham would make a good group.

MC: Yeah, that’s true. That would be a great selection, definitely. I think Matisse, you can throw Matisse in there too. There are so many artists that I love and that I couldn’t even begin to make a finalized list.

Left: Dreamer (drawing) and Right: Sugar Hill (painting) by Melissa Capasso

POVarts: What’s coming up next for you?

MC: I just had 2 solo shows back-to-back and I’m in my third trimester – about to have a baby. 

POVarts: Yes it’s been a very productive time, and I like how you’ve brought this energy into the work. And there are a lot of breasts in this body of work. It’s an interesting contrast to the masculine associations with the title of your show, Transformer, that connote electrical circuitry and boy-toys/transformers. Here the breasts are not sexualized objects, but rather powerful, transformating, and productive ones.

MC: Definitely. My work has often focused on themes of transformation and metamorphosis and used bodily forms to explore transitional identities and states of being.  Obviously though being pregnant while making the work for the show added a whole new dimension. As my daughter said to me, “Women are the ultimate shape shifters,” which I found so intelligent and profound. I was certainly interested in reclaiming the female body, from a binary position of sexualization and gender construct, as you mentioned, but also freeing it from its patriarchal lineage within art history to give it new purpose.

To keep up-to-date with the artist’s work you can follow them on Instagram @melissacapasso and check out her website and website 

Melissa Capasso in her Brooklyn Studio November 2019

Capasso earned her MFA from Brooklyn College in 2016. Recent exhibitions include several prominent group shows and a solo show at Gold/Scopophilia in Montclair, NJ. Reviewing the show for Two Coats of Paint, Jennifer Rose Bonilla-Edgington wrote that Capasso’s “work’s energy invites viewers’ engagement and its intricacy stimulates them to search their own minds for connections to the content, sparking the neurons.” Capasso teaches drawing at Suffolk County Community College and has also taught at Rutgers- Newark. Residencies and honors include the Elizabeth Murray Artist Residency and the Edward F. Albee Foundation Visual Arts Fellowship.

Written by Katerina Lanfranco

Photo Credit: POVarts

(Top Image: Starry Eyed and Goodbye Again paintings by Melissa Capasso)

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