Matthew Capaldo’s paintings somehow achieve a precise balance between familiarity and mystery. And maybe that’s why they always appear as moments from films that were never made but I somehow remember.
For the sixth season Capaldo is showing at Four Eleven Gallery in Provincetown, MA. His paintings are of a modest scale (8×10 and 11×14 inches), but never diminutive. Like all good cinema, from a distance they’re graphically compelling while up close revealing a psychological complexity and intimacy. And they introduce Capaldo as a true colorist, demonstrating his capacity to deftly handle saturated paint.
aComposed of thirteen new works, the show explores themes arising from popular culture, the tension between introversion and public performance, and the fragility of the psyche. All express gestures of perseverance. Although only three of the paintings might be said to exert a playful homoeroticism, each holds within it some element of queerness. By this I mean to suggest that Capaldo seems intent on making evident the many ways that myths about normality might be (and have been) resisted and transgressed—both as a matter of élan and as a strategy for survival. His strongest works engage these approaches simultaneously. For example, Talk Show 1973, a recreation of a seminal moment in the history of television, when Paul Williams appeared in his Battle for the Planet of the Apes costume on The Tonight Show, reminds us how a simple (if staged) intervention into the artifice of public life can create a thrilling disruption. Capaldo’s recreation of the scene allows us to both laugh at the moment’s camp sensibility and feel like an insider to the joke. More poignantly, the piece provides a modicum of insight to the power of media spectacle during a summer when ‘reality television’ is fretfully poised to assume the nuclear codes. Capaldo reminds us that television fools us, and then fools us again.
And in another work, In The Land of Milk and Honey, he makes evident the ways that media spectacle has infused the ways we navigate daily life. A deceptively direct painting, the persona of its single figure shifts upon repeated viewing. I first saw it as a straightforward ‘Hollywood portrait,’ but its emotional landscape and the very identity of the figure subsequently became elusive. Is she famous? Or an anonymous soul performing celebrity? Is she avoiding attention or creating a stir? Is she a she, after all? Or are we meant to be looking at a reflection?
Capaldo evades questions about his intentions, reveling in the delight of ambiguity. He does, however, generously invite interpretive dialogue. And the paintings never disappoint. Rich in imagery, they offer starting points for recollection and interrogation—and very often for disagreement. More than once I’ve heard viewers assert that each painting is something of an artist’s self-portrait—which in a sense is the most facile interpretation anyone can offer a painter. But in this case, it might be essentially true. Rather than making grand statements, Capaldo deftly reveals his particularity and subtlety through the artworks—or maybe just something of his preoccupations (which quite often prove to be our preoccupations, too). In this way he reminds me that great mysteries never remain hidden, they always slowly unfold.
Matthew Capaldo’s solo show runs through 30 June 2016 at Four Eleven Gallery, 411 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA. Select works will be shown in the gallery throughout the 2016 summer season.