Last Friday, on a cool evening in the heart of Venice, friends, art lovers, and passersby shared wine and snacks to celebrate the opening of the James Caprell Gallery. The space, a recently renovated bungalow on Abbott Kinney, is home to the work of not only a fine young artist, but also a man with a background as fascinating as his work.
Seven years ago, Caprell left a Wall Street career that had him on a fast track to great wealth and position. Working 120-hour weeks that caused him to go sleepless for days on end, Caprell began to feel that a life spent basically making wealthy people even wealthier would not make him happy. So he quit and devoted his considerable energy to acting and painting. In 2004 he had his first art show for friends and family, as fate would have it, in Venice. He sold his first painting at that show, and his work and reputation have been growing ever since.
Caprell loosely defines himself as an “action painter,” the spontaneous, intensely energetic style made famous by artists such as Jackson Pollock and William de Kooning. But Caprell’s work and approach differ from his predecessors in several key ways. The aforementioned titans of modern abstract were primarily concerned with the experience of the artist as he painted, and allowing that experience to freely define the ultimate form of the work. Although Caprell believes in this impulsive, intuitive approach, he also consciously focuses his attention on composition. Caprell is constantly working to keep the physical elements – line, color, texture, etc., in balance so the viewer is not, in his words, “thrown off the canvas.”
Caprell works in layers – sometimes as many as 20 or 30 – and favors acrylic paints because they dry quickly. Depending on the “series,” a group of paintings that explore a similar theme or aesthetic, Caprell may also use mixed-media such as cloth, plastic, and in the case of a whimsical piece called “Fast Food,” foam insulation shot right out of a can onto the canvas.
“Core,” the piece that adorned the invitation to the opening, is from a series that emphasizes “liquid movement”: colors run and merge, lines overlap and intertwine, but are compositionally stabilized by the painting’s center figure, a heart-like shape that both holds the viewer’s attention, and acts as the source from which all other action derives.
By owning his own gallery, Caprell is unique among visual artists. He hastens to point out that the purpose of opening the gallery was not born of some massive ego trip, but rather out of his sincere desire to connect directly with people who are interested in his work. His plans for the space also include guest artists (by way of putting his money where his mouth is, Caprell will never exhibit someone whose work he himself has not purchased), musical performances, and play readings, but he stresses that the space is first and foremost a gallery wherein he can share his work with the community.
Caprell is an outgoing and charming young man with a ready smile and a down-to-earth manner that certainly belies the stereotype of the asocial artist. His need to create art is really part of the larger design of his life: to live with purpose and integrity, and to serve others in everything he does. In describing his dissatisfaction with some of his early artistic efforts, Caprell explains that the same ego that drove him on Wall Street – to be the top dog, to win praise and adulation – was driving his art. He became acutely aware that in order to truly create meaningful work he needed to lose his ego, his desire for approbation, and work purely from the desire to, in some way, touch the viewer’s heart. The lyrical, passionate work on display in his cozy gallery is a testament to an artist who found his creative voice by means of finding himself.
At one point during last week’s opening, a seven-year-old boy ran up to a dazzling painting called “Labyrinth,” and exclaimed, “Wow! That’s awesome! That’s beautiful!” and then ran off as quickly as he arrived. The public, apparently, has spoken, and the praise is well-deserved.
The James Caprell Gallery is located at 1136 Abbott Kinney Boulevard in Venice, and is open Wednesdays through Sundays, 1-7 p.m., and by appointment. For more information, call 310.909.8645 or go to caprellcollection.com.