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Lincoln Capla

Capla Kesting Fine Art April 6 – 30, 2007

When Lincoln Capla died of cancer in 2006 at the age of 36, he left over 2000 paintings behind. Throughout his career he returned to a set of motifs, a sampling of which comprises his mini-retrospective at Capla Kesting Fine Art. All the selections are from this millennium and all his themes are represented.

Lincoln Capla, “Untitled Path to Glory.” Oil on wood. 47” x 28”.

The flux of themes in Capla’s paintings seems a product of a multifaceted vision rather than a sign of immaturity or an effort to be postmodern. The themes complement one another. He does not blend them, but isolates an idea on a single canvas, making each painting a concise summary of its subject. There are no jarring clashes of imagery of the Sigmar Polke or David Salle sort. Instead, Capla gives us a natural flow of pictures with no concessions to fashion. Though they don’t seem uninformed, many of his paintings look like they could have been made any time over the past hundred years. Today’s rote awareness of trends among young artists makes Capla’s resistance to them both rare and welcome.

Capla’s three major themes are divided among the square gallery’s four walls. A string of austere portraits with an unmistakable debt to Giacometti and Cubism adorns one. Following clockwise are three paintings all entitled “Untitled Paths to Glory” in which the artist applies the oval form of his portrait heads to symbolic landscape rather than physiognomy. These are large works, up to 78 inches on a side, in black and white. Their predominant symbol, repeated in each painting, is a linear scaffold rising from a black pit to a cloud bank overhead. There is a small doorway painted at the center of each canvas toward which perspective lines converge. A moon with stars hangs beneath a stairway ascending into the cloud bank and crowned by a cross. The final wall highlights more abstract work that recalls the Belgian poet-painter, Marcel Broodthaers. Here, like Broodthaers, Capla uses real eggshells, language and a sophisticated sense of design to stymie comprehension.

Capla’s work is always original; the comparisons it evokes reveal its intelligence, not its derivation. It is tempting to speculate on the role Capla’s understanding of his illness played in his work’s maturity. Art history is full of talents who seem to have flown higher and accomplished more due to an intuitive foreknowledge of the brevity of their lives. Without a sense of mortality, any artist’s work is sure to suffer from superficiality. And yet many artists who lived a full lifetime have fallen short of Capla’s achievement: A necessary statement, entirely his own.

—Ben La Rocco


Ben La Rocco


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2007

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