Vincent Capraro (1919- ) is a 20th century American-born fine artist and teacher, trained and schooled in European neoclassicism, and having created painting, drawing, etching and sculpture expressing baroque, romantic and impressionist traditions as well. From pastoral landscapes to bold allegorical works involving difficult social themes, Capraro's works are hailed as singular, personal and uncompromising, as any in contemporary art.
Capraro's wife, Tatiana Onus Capraro (1916- ) is also an artist and they reside in Piermont, New York. Vincent Capraro's works are housed in The Philadelphia Museum Of Art, Center for Jewish Culture in Krakow, Poland, and in private collections including those of celebrity estates such as architect Edward Durell Stone, performers Vincent Price, Anthony Quinn and Robert Merrill, photographer Sam Shaw, also film-maker Irvin Kershner and entrepreneur Sandy Frank.
Capraro was born November 9, 1919 in Manhattan, New York City to Dominick and Theresa Capraro, who had immigrated from Italy. His early childhood was spent in an apartment in the Italian-American enclave of northeast Harlem, and the family soon moved to a private home in The Bronx in 1925. He is one of three children, with two sisters, an elder, Rose Libone (1916- ), and a younger, Grace Cavalconte (1922-2007)
Capraro attended City College of the City University Of New York as a business major and was an accomplished athlete, playing on CUNY's championship basketball team coached by Nat Holman. He graduated in 1942 and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps for World War II, attaining the rank of Captain during service in the Pacific.
Vincent spent the post war years of 1946-49 studying at Hans Hoffman's School Of Fine Arts in Greenwich Village, New York City, where fellow students included Larry Rivers, Wolf Kahn and Paul Resicka.
In 1949, Capraro married Tatiana Onus, and the couple moved to Italy to live in Rome and study art. Vincent studied under Professor B. Guzzi at the Meschini Institute and exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1952 and the Museum of Modern Art, Rome, in 1953. While living in Italy, Vincent supplemented his art income with acting jobs including extra work and small roles in European-made Hollywood epics such as "Quo Vadis" (l953).
The New York School
Vincent and Tataina Capraro returned to America in 1955 and moved to lower Manhattan, occupying a studio loft in the burgeoning artists' community there.
In 1959 Capraro was commissioned by renowned architect Edward Durell Stone to create a mural for his residence, and he exhibited at Iolas Gallery and Grippi "G" Gallery in New York City.
In 1961, Capraro's Holocaust drawings were first exhibited in New York at Kingworthy Gallery and in 1962 at Hirschl & Adler Gallery. In addition to these few exhibited works, Capraro's musings on the irrationality of the Holocaust and his personal abhorrence of fascism filled both sides of a sketchbook's sheets with ink and watercolor. The sketchbook would not be shown until major exhibitions in Jerusalem in 1992, in Krakow, Poland in 1999, and at The Yeshiva University Museum in New York in 2006.
In 1965 The Capraros moved to a hundred-year old home along the Sparkill Creek in Piermont New York. In the ample home, studio space was built for Vincent and Tataina to work and teach. Inspired by the riparian surroundings that nurtured the Hudson River School, Capraro excelled at landscape painting, and exhibited at the nearby Edward Hopper House. Other local commissions included statuary for the Sparkill Fire Department and a bust of Christopher Columbus for New City Town Hall, dedicated in 1973. In the 1980s, a variety of Capraro's paintings, etchings and drawings were exhibited at De Rempich Gallery near Manhattan's esteemed Museum Mile.
The 1990s saw the first international exhibitions of his work since the shows in Rome of the 1950s. In 1992, Holocaust-inspired work was shown at the Knesset and Yad Vashem, Jerusalem. In addition to the erstwhile Holocaust Sketchbook, Capraro created a new large painting depicting an historic event.
"The Jews Of Vught" commemorates an incident that took place at a concentration camp in the southern Netherlands during World War II. Here, the Nazis built the "Black Hole", a cell measuring 8 by 12 feet (smaller than the square footage of Capraro's canvas). Sixty seven women were imprisoned in this cramped space for thirteen hours, resulting in the death of nineteen and serious injury of all survivors. Capraro presents the horror of the event through the reactions of four witnesses. Overpainted with glazes that will become more transparent with time, a fifth figure will emerge more clearly as a witness in Time. After the 1992 Knesset display, "Jews Of Vught" (shown along with the Holocaust Sketchbook) found a permanent home at the Wtoski Cultural Institute of Krakow, Poland, after a 1999 opening attended by The Capraros.
Capraro entered the new millennium and his ninth decade energized and connected with the joys and horrors of an ever changing world. Reminiscent of both Rembrandt and Goya, his drawings and large, mural-scale paintings evoke the suffering of humanity and the horrors of the Holocaust and beyond into the events of our time. At The Yeshiva University Museum in Manhattan, a 2006 exhibition paired the Holocaust sketches with bold new oil paintings that push Capraro's art to new boundaries. With deep shades of sepia, burnt and raw sienna, masses of shadowy figures in a swirling heavenly perspective comprise the most deeply impressionistic images of Capraro's life work. The exhibit, called "Vincent Capraro's Visions" included an address at the opening by Tom L. Freudenheim, Assistant Secretary for Museums, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC. The showing was reprised in part, along with new landscapes, at The Rockefeller State Park Preserve, Pocantico Hills, New York in June 2008. Not far from the town's famed Unitarian Church (featuring stained glass windows by Marc Chagall) and the world-class Rockefeller estate art collection at Kykuit. Vincent Capraro's latest visions find a place within an ironically contrasted world of natural beauty and man's vain and often destructive attempts to tame it.
Quotes about Vincent Capraro:
James Beck, Professor of Art History, Columbia University, New York City: "Vincent Capraro is a rara avis. Capraro developed as an artist when the Abstract Expressionist movement was fermenting in the studios around Eighth Street. Unlike many painters of his same generation, he found the non-objectivity of the art that was exploding around him inappropriate for the expression of his vision. Capraro's way of seeing, of presenting, is compatible with and heir to some of the finest achievements of the Western, and especially the Baroque, tradition. Once all this is said, one must quickly add that this painter is inescapably contemporary. His approach to pure pigment is so free that it becomes mystifying when seen close up; his handling of the oil medium--a craft in which he is so demanding that he grinds his own colors--is that of a virtuoso."
Tom L. Freudenheim, Assistant Secretary for Museums, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC: "Along with a specificity of emotional engagement, Capraro presents the viewer with a universality that holds metaphorical power for all genocide, all brutality."
His studio is cluttered with the tools of creativity - easels, paintbrushes (some customized for his arthritic hands), palette knives, tubes of paint, oils and the raw materials he uses to mix his own colors; props, books, frames, past and current paintings.
Oil paints scent the air of the studio on a rainy day, and stain not only the walls and floors, but also his casual pants. His tan-colored scarf is draped over a green fleece sweatshirt.
In his 10th decade, Vincent Capraro of Piermont is still immersed in his art, eager to show a visitor how he uses brushes and manipulates color to make the light and darkness compel the viewer's attention. He traces the edges of the light and darkness with steady fingers that work over the finished canvas again to show the sweep of action he has conveyed.
"I have a lot to learn yet. I'm 90 years old and just beginning," he said.