Stephen Capiz traces his artistic roots to growing up in St. Paul's West Side flats. His work is now prized in collections across the world.
Stephen Capiz grew up in St. Paul's West Side flats in the '50s, a place to which he credits his early, somewhat unconventional, training in art.
"I grew up in a really cool neighborhood," he said. "It had the best dump in the world. A dump mall."
He said it was such a popular place that police only let a couple of cars through at a time as little fires burned everywhere. His dad often dropped him off and gave him an hour to hunt, and one day, he unearthed a book on contemporary art. Inspired, he started finding old brushes and painting with industrial paint on linoleum. "I used whatever I could find," he said.
After spending more than four decades painting, Capiz now has work in collections as far away as Iceland, Japan, Mexico, Argentina and Spain. Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, bought a piece for his private collection.
Capiz is showing a selection of abstract pieces and landscapes at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center Gallery until Sept. 18.
"All the pieces have such an energy, such a life force to them," gallery director Alejandra Pelinka said. "There's either a high energy or a tranquil energy to his pieces. It's diverse, but it really has this flowing connectedness that goes through it."
Capiz said his travels, seeing interlocking walls in Spain or aerial views of roads and pastures in the Midwest, inspired many of his often bold and vibrant abstract pieces. To appease his father, who wasn't a fan of contemporary art, Capiz learned to paint more representational landscapes. These often have more muted tones or are rich, dark scenes set in the evening or at dusk -- ice dams on Lake Superior, the backwaters of the Mississippi, thunderstorms and arroyos in the desert, snowy stands of birch or Aspen.
"Blue skies and white clouds just don't do it for me," he said.
Capiz often uses what he calls "impasto with energy." He sometimes makes his own brushes from broom bristles or other materials to create an effect of windblown snake grass or reeds.
"There has to be movement, almost to the point of violence at times," he said.
Because his dad discouraged him from attending art school, Capiz sought out mentors. He found them in Alonzo Hauser, a local bronze sculptor, and he did bronze for a number of years. He also studied under Clem Haupers, a watercolor artist, and Paul Kramer, a landscape painter. (In Capiz's studio he displays artwork on Kramer's easel, a gift from the family.) He said his mentorship with Veloy Vigil, a New Mexican abstract artist, introduced him to color, and he finds great inspiration in the work of Rufino Tamayo, a Mexican abstract painter.
While Capiz, of Spanish and Mexican descent, sometimes references traditional religious folk art with patron saint or Dia de los Muertos images, he prefers to use a more unconventional, abstract approach. "We're being marketed as Frida Kahlo," he says. "I'm an American. I grew up here."
Many of Capiz's family members have served in the U.S. military, and he also builds World War II-era models from scratch, using painterly effects like patinas and impasto to create realistic elements, such as oil leaks on German torpedo boats or aged siding on tanks. "That's what gives them the look of life," he said. "I see them more as three-dimensional art works than models."
Capiz sees all of his interests and artistic forms of expression as interconnected. "I'm inspired by everything," he said. "I can't sit here and wait for inspiration. Inspiration is for beginners. It depends, as an artist, on how much passion you have and how far you want to go."
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Minneapolis freelance writer.