New York, 513 West 20th Street
Yoan Capote’s third solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery introduces two new bodies of work, Isla and Palangre, for which the artist meticulously employs fish hooks to illustrate seascapes during periods of the day. This unexpected medium stands out to depict the wavy surface of the sea, while labor and risk associated with thin sharp-edged hooks convey strong political and social narratives. Artpseak editor Osman Can Yerebakan interviewed Capote about his current exhibition and visual and thematic threads of his work.
Osman Can Yerebakan: The viewing ritual is an important component of your work. You ask the audience to slowly approach the work to realize its unexpected medium and again examine it in slow pace. How do you consider this intimate ritual between the work and the audience?
Yoan Capote: I’ve always had interest about the relation between the viewer and the artwork. When I conceive a piece, I try to analyze the possible interaction of the work with the audience from symbolical perspectives, and the way the work could show something different in a second or closer sight. In the case of these fishhook paintings, I was interested in merging different technical solutions. So, in the distant they could look like graphic images, where each fishhook is bent and is used like a line in an etching, creating tones and shadows. When the viewer comes closer, they can detect the brushstrokes and the texture of the oil painting, appreciating the free gesture opposed to crafted accumulation of fishhooks. But, in a very close intimate view, it is all about the object and its three dimensional aggressiveness. This together reinforces meanings and metaphors, and my interest of moving the viewer from a visual pleasant image of the sea to a real and tactile dangerous surface.
OCY: Sea, horizon, and water in general perpetuate hope and positivity. Later, you shatter these notions with fishhooks that protrude from the surface with their sharp ends. Although fish hook is not a foreign material as we speak of the sea, its sharpness and potential for damage contradict with positive aspects of water. What does sea mean in your work and how does this contrast between the subject and the medium influence you?
YC: In the same way that Romantic painters of XIX century find associations among natural occurrences and human emotions, I consider that the sea itself is a permanent mental reference for people that live on an Island, and its horizon is a constant image that could evoke hope, fantasy, isolation, and frustration. We can feel that when we read the famous poem of Virgilio Piñera entitled La Isla en Peso, published in 1943, where the fact of being surrounded by the sea is also described like a sort of temporal fatalism. But after the Cuban revolution, thepopulation had to face a more dramatic relation with the sea, connected to our history and maintained in our recent political landscape (total isolation, migration, death and decades of political division).
Actually my first idea for that painting emerged studying a term used during the Cold War: the iron curtain. Of course, I was very inspired by personal experiences too, and I can say that in contrast with the colorful touristic image that foreigners have of our Caribbean environment, there is a different emotional landscape inside every Cuban. Then I was trying to make paintings that could represent those interior collective feelings, where the sea is interpreted as an iron curtain, as a political border, as a trap, as a metal fence, as a wall, as hope, as an exit. The fishhooks are a direct allegory of the water, but also an allegory of a trap, of seduction, pain or death. So, it was a challenge for me to materialize this idea, combining these objects to the painting surface and its representational possibilities.
OCY: In relation to the previous question, the world has been witnessing images of people risking or losing their lives traveling across seas in order to survive a war. Although such images are nothing new, the Syrian Civil War definitely has had impact on raising attention towards unsafe methods of immigration. As a Cuban artist, what is your perception on recent events and displacement in general?
YC: I think all human beings have experiences in common and face similar conflicts, despite the differences of their contexts. Then art helps us to think of the human essence of such experiences and help us to meditate on that universal level. So, I like this association you are making because it expands the meanings and interpretations of the work to deeper human reflections.
OCY: In your paintings, you capture the shift from morning into the night and vice versa. The common perception for day is that it's hopeful, while night time signals despair and isolation. How do you attribute metaphorical connotations to night or day?
YC: It is true that in these paintings I find very interesting connections among the light, the psychological possibilities of color, and its emotional allegories. So I get a lot of inspiration in paintings of Eduard Munch, in the way he used the expressive connotations of color and also in the impressionist studies of light. I'm thinking now of Claude Monet and his color variations on the same subject, like the Ruan cathedral paintings. The light and the shape of the sea change infinitively; every day and every minute we can appreciate a totally different piece of water and this encouraged me to experiment in different directions.
OCY” The element of risk is so vivid in your landscapes that even as the audience one feels alarmed and tends to step back. Can you talk about your process for a typical painting?
YC:I don't know exactly, and it is impossible to calculate how many thousands of Cubans died and disappeared in the sea trying to escape or looking for a different reality. So each fishhook in these paintings could be counted as one of those people. I was a silent witness of those years and I wanted this series of work to embody that risk and that frustration; the risk of dying in the water, the frustration of accepting that geography and politics decide the limits of the individual liberty, in the same way fences and walls define the space of a jail. So, I liked the idea of opposing the action of paint, the liberty of the artist gesture, the controlled craft, and collective process of hammering the fishhooks areas. But also for me the fact of making this piece in collaboration with a lot of assistants underlines its meanings as a shared expression about a collective situation.