Edmond Caputo combines sculptural elements and painting to explore themes of loss, memory, and nature, inspired by the passing of his father and childhood walks they shared. The work invites viewers to contemplate the intertwined narratives of personal grief, cultural heritage, and the universal human connection to the natural world.
Edmond Caputo – The work I sent you was from a solo show I had a few months ago in the Lower East Side. Creating it would have been impossible in New York City; I needed space and natural elements. The inspiration actually came from walks I used to take with my dad. Living in my grandparents’ house again and experiencing the loss of my father brought back a flood of memories and influences, which I channelled into my art.
Kelly Foster – Were there any specific criticisms you received about your work?
EC – Well, the critique was essentially aimed at understanding why I had combined these two elements—the sculpture made of branches and the paintings. The question was whether they needed each other. Could the message conveyed by the paintings stand alone, or could the branches exist independently?
Funny enough, I had pondered this before incorporating the paintings. I was inspired by a sculptor I admire who had horizontally split a branch in two. When I did it vertically, it yielded an interesting symmetry and psychological depth, like a Rorschach test. So, the critic questioned if the paintings mattered at all, or if the branches alone were already constructing a sort of portal. I admit I’m not sure if the branches alone are enough. It’s the next avenue for me to explore.
KF – So are these sculptures made from single branches that you’ve split and attached flat against the wall?
EC – Yes, exactly. I had to be selective in finding straight branches. I then cut them and attached them to the wall at a few points. Some branches jut out more than others, adding dimensionality. They’re treated with marble or charcoal dust as an homage to art history and my cultural background.
KF – It’s fascinating that you’re using marble, not just for its aesthetic qualities, but also for its historical and cultural significance.
EC – I was exposed to these materials early on, growing up in a bicultural family in upstate New York. There’s something universally captivating about materials like marble and gold. They fulfil aesthetic, functional, and symbolic roles, and that intrigues me.
KF – Your work’s power comes not just from its abstraction, but also from how it connects to a deeply personal tragedy. It turns grief into a shared human experience. As you revisit your childhood memories and the emotional connection with your father, you infuse that energy into the objects. It allows people to read various emotions and feelings into your art.
EC – The work didn’t start out intending to be about this. It evolved that way naturally, which makes sense given my life experiences. I found myself in the studio with complete creative freedom, and the end result wasn’t what I initially expected. It had to happen this way; it’s how I deal with my emotions. Grief and loss are universal experiences that we all go through as humans. Hearing others interpret my work has been fulfilling because it creates a bond, a connection formed through shared suffering.
The show in New York is about nature, but it’s more than that. For years, I lived near Prospect Park in New York, which was my oasis. It wasn’t pure nature, but it provided the essential elements: fresh air, peace, quiet, water, and sun. These elements rejuvenate the human spirit, especially in the hustle and bustle of city life.
KF – The objects you bring back to New York—some painted black—seem to mirror that experience. Black can symbolise intensity, and cutting the branches makes them appear more vulnerable, much like the depths of nature mirroring the harsh realities of urban living.
EC – You know, I hadn’t considered that, but now that you mention it, it seems obvious. New York is a concrete jungle, and the work reflects that in some way. I remember visiting Muir Woods in San Francisco and being in awe of the giant redwoods. It was a humbling experience. We are part of nature, born from it. Other experiences, like climbing a mountain or snorkelling deep in the ocean, also evoke this feeling. They are terrifying yet awe-inspiring, like staring into the dark blue abyss of the ocean.
The awesomeness of nature is something we all need. Even lifelong New Yorkers, who don’t feel the same urgency to escape the city, still feel the pull of nature at times. We’re innately connected to it, and that’s important.
KF – Yes, what you mentioned about the humbling experience of nature is fascinating. Whether it’s the ocean or enormous trees, nature serves as a mirror reflecting our own mortality. We are truly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. It’s interesting how these feelings of awe align with concepts of loss, grief, and death.
EC – Absolutely, it’s a constant backdrop to our lives. Walking through the woods has always been a transformative experience for me. No matter what you’re going through, it brings some sort of clarity or offers answers to questions you’ve been pondering. In my recent body of work, this idea of nature’s transformative power is embedded. The cycle of life and death is evident in nature, but it’s also regenerative, which is crucial to remember.
KF – I’m curious about your creative process. How do you go from an idea to a finished piece?
EC – I initially focused on paper pieces that explored psychological landscapes rather than literal ones. The work has always been about control versus letting the materials do their thing, especially when water is involved.
In 2019, I shifted to canvas and experimented with elements like salt, which added and also stripped away textures. These explorations have led me to my current work, which incorporates marble dust as a surface treatment, giving the art a stone-like appearance.
KF – So, your recent works seem to be deeply rooted in the concept of location and place, be it physical or psychological.
EC – Exactly, my work has always been about landscapes but not necessarily physical ones—more like psychological terrains. These are places we all navigate throughout our lives, and they can change significantly. The work in my Lower East Side show was perhaps a more explicit representation of these ideas, giving viewers more literal ‘portals’ to walk through and explore.
KF – It’s interesting to hear about the evolution of your work. Earlier on, you were primarily focused on materials and perception, as well as the natural alchemy of how materials respond. It seems you’re still engaged with those themes. In your latest body of work, there are pieces with distinct motifs, like a black painting with white branches. Could you tell me more about that?
EC – That started with a couple of pieces, one of which is called “Seeking Self.” I created it in this room, the master bedroom of my grandparents’ house. The wallpaper, which had a floral pattern, had been here since the ’60s. My family is from Sicily, and I found this floral lace pattern among the linens here. It didn’t immediately look like a rose pattern, but it implied a floral bloom. I wondered how to incorporate it into my work and used it as a stencil.
One piece called “Last Flowers” was influenced by my father’s passing. It has a sombre, funerary feel. This is where I grew up, watching my Italian grandparents work in the kitchen, which was as creative an environment as any studio. This room is where I learned the skills I apply in my work today.
KF – The story of your grandparents and the floral motif feels deeply connected to your work, which also portrays memories of your father and your Italian heritage. It’s incredible how you’ve linked nature, heritage, and the flow of time and memories in your work.
EC – It’s almost an obligation to carry on this lineage. I’ve ended up owning my grandparents’ house, maintaining its long-standing aesthetics while adding my own touch. As an artist, I think differently about all these influences, merging them into my work.
I recently found some notes in my grandmother’s handwriting, and it struck me how even handwriting can be a material worth preserving. I realised I had been observing my grandparents transform materials in their kitchen all my life, inspiring my own material transformations in art.
KF – Your work seems like an aesthetic end-point to a long process of material and cultural transformation. It’s a captivating way of keeping your family traditions and memories alive, albeit in a new form that’s uniquely you.
I love hearing you talk about your life stories. It’s beautiful how it all comes together, from moving out of New York to settling in your new home, revisiting memories, and drawing inspiration from your father and nature. It seems like an authentic, healing journey. Your art serves as a monument to your history, as well as your father’s and grandparents’ lives. It’s as if everything is being absorbed into you and expressed through your art. It’s incredibly beautiful and moving.
EC – Absolutely, life comes at you quickly sometimes. When I compare who I am now to who I was in New York, the transformation is evident. Since moving back home, I’ve had an explosion of creative energy, resulting in two solo shows. It’s as though a lot was pent up that I can now release. And like many artists I know, each new body of work feels like progress. Though each step seems small, they feel monumental at the time. When you step back and look at the timeline, it’s clear we’re making incremental progress. Whether it’s about reaching a specific place or just the journey itself, I feel that my latest work is more refined and resonates deeply with my experiences, like walks with my dad around the lake during my childhood. It’s significant yet simple.