Artist and writer Noyes Capehart has a new work of fiction in the works! Tentatively titled, Dark Trophies, it is a story loosely based on the three years (2006-2009) he spent as a volunteer art teacher at Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution, a moderate security prison in Spruce Pine, North Carolina.
A summary of the story: On September 26, 2009, Savannah Cade, wife of college art professor Peregrine Cade, is brutally murdered in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Grief-stricken and filled with rage, Cade struggles to complete his fall semester courses but not without major behavioral difficulties. As a consequence of his erratic performance, he is placed on administrative leave for the following spring term. At the suggestion of his closest friend, Episcopal rector Chester Raines, he accepts an invitation from (fictional) Tredegar Prison to deliver an art course to its inmates. After initially dismissing the offer, he reconsiders and begins the assignment in February, 2010. It is in this context that Cade discovers an alarming reason for Tredegar’s disappointing record in the annual state penal art contest. This discovery triggers a larger, more disturbing series of events and situations at Tredegar, eventually climaxing with unexpectedly grave consequences. Dark Trophies is a story of revenge, good versus evil, prejudice and forgiveness, and the indominable human spirit.
Dark Trophies will be Capehart’s third published work of fiction. He released Devil’s Mark in 2013, and its sequel, Chameleon in 2016. (Both are currently available on Amazon Books.) In 2018, Capehart’s Cheap Joe was released, a biography of Boone’s own Joe Miller, owner of Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff. (This book is also available on Amazon) In addition to these published works, Capehart has completed the manuscripts for three other works of fiction: Potato Eaters (a coming of age story about a young man from Tennessee who finds himself stranded in New York City and finds work as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), Gehenna’s Child (a story about sociopathic fourteen year old boy and his ordeals with school bullies), and God’s Acolyte ( a story about a brilliant but morally corrupt priest).
If you are a member of a book club, or a group or artists, and would like Noyes Capehart to come and make a presentation about one, or more, of his books, or to share with you the parallels – similarities and differences – with his writing and painting, contact him by e-mail at capehart (at) charter (dot) net.
In September 1888, while living in Arles, France, Vincent Van Gogh painted The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum. The painting (shown below) depicts the brightly lit outdoor café at night under a starry sky. (The painting was completed approximately nine months before his iconic Starry Night.)
Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles Vincent Van Gogh (1888) Dallas Art MuseumDallas, Texas
the mid- 1990’s while teaching At Appalachian State University, I led several
study broad trips to Lugano, Switzerland. During the five-week term each summer,
my students and I made long weekend trips to Venice and Florence, Italy. One
year we made such a trip to Arles.
One day while we were in Arles, we
found ourselves ready for lunch while at the Place du Forum. We took one of a
number of tables in the large open area, from which we could see a number of
the small businesses and restaurants that flanked the area, most of which
catered to tourists, like ourselves. Each restaurant owned a designated number
of the tables, so a few moments after we were seated a waiter from one of the
restaurants came promptly to take our orders.
While waiting for our food, one of
my students asked me, “Do you think Vincent painted anything in this part of
“I can’t be sure,” I replied, “but
Arles is not that big. I think it’s entirely possible he spent some time here.”
My reply seemed to satisfy the questioner.
Across from our table, I saw an
apothecary, or a drugstore as we might call it. In front of the establishment
were three or four kiosks, each displaying postcards. Thinking that I might
follow lunch by picking up a few cards, I announced my intentions. Several of
the students said they would like to do likewise.
When I approached one of the kiosks, I saw it was filled with cards showing reproductions of Vincent’s paintings. I selected a number of cards, including The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum. As I was paying for the cards, I asked the cashier if she knew whether Vincent Van Gogh ever painted in the area. Her English was not perfect but she understood the gist of my question. After processing the person behind me, she came around from behind the counter and took my sleeve. “Come!” she said, as she began pulling me in the direction of the door. When we had exited the store, she took my left hand and placed it as high as she could on the broad doorframe. Gently turning me so I was facing left of her store, she pointed to the postcard in my right hand with Vincent’s painting of the Place du Forum. “Look! See!” she exclaimed. “Vincent Van Gogh!”
My left hand was still resting on
the doorframe, the blue part of the doorway in Vincent’s painting! I was looking
at the very part of the Place du Forum Vincent painted in 1888. It wasn’t the
same restaurant, of course, but the skyline was exactly the same.
She then moved me about two steps
away from the doorframe and pointed to a small smooth stone set among the
cobblestones. On it, the inscription: Vincent Van Gogh stood on this exact
spot when he painted the Café Terrace on the Place du Forum in 1888.
I took a
color photograph of the contemporary restaurant, careful to capture the
skyline. Over the course of time, I’ve misplaced or lost the color slide. For
those few moments, however, I was there in his time, standing where his feet
had been. Being there was one of the most exciting travel moments I’ve ever
Like most young artists, I had
my visual heroes when I began my professional career in 1958. As a student at
Auburn University, I cut my teeth on abstract expressionists like Willem de
Kooning and Franz Kline. I reveled in the imaginative world of Rene Magritte,
and I admired and inwardly coveted Andrew Wyeth’s ability to transform the most
innocuous landscapes into poetic compositions. But most of all, my first steps
as an artist were influenced by the sober work of Edward Hopper.
In August of 1958, following my
graduation from Auburn, I traveled to New York City with one of my teachers.
His intention was to “patch up things” with a girlfriend in Brooklyn before
returning to the university for the fall term. At his suggestion, I checked
into the YMCA upon our arrival in the city. My mission during that three to
five-day time frame was to visit as many museums as I could before making the
return trip south with him. He was to contact me in a couple of days with his return
A long story made short: My
teacher never called. Tragically, he drowned two days after dropping me off at
the YMCA. As my meager funds were about gone, I faced two options: (1) call my
father for bus money home, or (2) find a job and stay in New York City. I opted
for the latter, and found work as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
At the time of my employment,
the Met’s special exhibition galleries were featuring works by ten American
artists, among them Georgia O’Keefe, Charles Burchfield, Stuart Davis, and to
my great delight, Edward Hopper. As this exhibition was located in the part of
the museum to which I had been assigned, I was able to visit the exhibition on
a daily basis and study Hopper’s pictures. On those days when I was assigned
elevator duty – an assignment loathed by most veteran guards but one which I
loved – I was treated to “peeks” of Hopper’s paintings each time the elevator
doors opened at the second floor. As the all too familiar saying goes, “I felt
like I’d died and gone to heaven,” on elevator days.
One afternoon while doing
elevator duty, I was called to the basement. When the door opened, three
persons entered the chamber: a balding man I recognized as an assistant
curator, a tall, stern-looking man, and a petite woman. As the trio entered my
elevator, the tall man was railing away about the Hopper selections in the
exhibit, angrily telling the curator that he should have chosen stronger works.
The first thought that entered my mind as the tall man registered his
displeasure was a critical one: Just who do you think you are to speak so ill
of Edward Hopper’s paintings? As the
elevator continued its slow journey to the second floor and the exhibition of
selected American artists, my irritation at the tall man’s scalding assault and
the curator’s lame responses intensified. The woman accompanying the two men
had not said a word since entering the elevator.
my olive-green uniform and facing the instrument panel, I decided that someone
needed to counter the tall man’s wrath. His bully-like posture needed to be
checked. As I was the only person in the elevator who could step in and silence
the unpleasant critic, I did something that was most certainly counter to the
duties and responsibilities of a museum guard. I began turning around in order
to face the tall man, and as I did so I compressed all of the fingers of my
right hand with the exception of the index finger which resembled the barrel of
a handgun. Just as I was about half-way though my impromptu pirouette, just
when I was about to tell the tall man just what I thought of his unmerited criticism
of Hopper’s paintings, just as my balled right hand with the extended index
finger was about to point at the tall man’s chest, the small woman said, “Ed,
they did the best they could.”
At that precise moment, unable to gracefully cancel my abrupt gesture and retreat to my instrument panel, the thought seared my mind: Ed? Could this man be big Ed? Could this be Edward Hopper? Before I could stop my body in its less than graceful turn, I was facing the abusive man, my extended index finger now hanging limply at my side. A deathly silence enveloped the moment. I looked up and into the tall man’s eyes, and saw a blend of anger and consternation. Before I could more fully process the scrambled feelings and emotions coursing through my mind, I completed my turn and was once again facing the instrument panel.
When the doors opened at the second floor, all three of my passengers exited in silence, each looking at me with puzzled expressions, as if each believed I had momentarily lost my mind. As I watched them walk away from the elevator towards the special exhibition, I realized I could not let my one and only contact with Edward Hopper end on such a sour note. He was, after all, my very favorite artist! I pushed the “Hold” button on the instrument panel, and ran out, hoping to catch up with Hopper before he entered the exhibition. When I did so, I instinctively grabbed one of the sleeves of his shirt and gave it a tug.
Hopper turned immediately and looked down on me with a fierce scowl on his face. Before he could say anything, and as the curator and the petite woman looked on in disbelief, I blurted out, “Mr. Hopper, please forgive me. I just…I mean I only wanted you to know how much I admire your work. I just wanted you to know.”
The awkward moment passed quickly, and I returned to my elevator with a heavy heart. I had made a complete fool of myself, and for a fleeting moment worried that the curator might report my unorthodox behavior. As I was nearing the open door of the elevator, the small woman caught up with me and said, “Please, young man, Ed was touched by your words. It’s just that he doesn’t always know how to respond to such kindness. Thank you for sharing with him your respect for his pictures.”
The blinking light on the instrument panel told me someone on the mezzanine needed a ride. I thanked the small women – Jo Hopper, as I would later learn – and watched the door of the elevator make its silent closure.
One of the first major influences on my visual work were the films of the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007). Films like The Seventh Seal (1957) and Wild Strawberries (1957) had a profound effect on my earliest pictorial thinking and priorities. Part of Bergman’s appeal came from his stark black and white movies, but I was also captivated by his thematic emphasis; films that probed symbolic and emotional language, psychological realism, and issues such as memory, old age, and the reality of death and cruelty. Another influence that came from Bergman’s films was the versatility of his stable of actors (Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Gunnar Bjornstand, and Ingrid Thulin, among others) and their capacity to assume different roles with comparable command and conviction. This creative capacity is what draws me to actors like the late Robin Williams, Meryl Streep, or Anthony Hopkins; all have demonstrated the ability to become chameleon-like from one film to the next. In some ways, that’s what I try to do with many of my visual images. I think of them as reflections, or my own “actors.”
I realized early on that when one finishes a picture one has revealed but one solution to a given picture idea. Instead of jumping to a totally different picture idea – from a landscape to still life, for example- I often make a second, or third version of the same image. Monet did this with his waterlilies. He stayed with the same subject material from canvas to canvas, yet each painting yielded a different solution. In “squeezing” given subject material like this, I’ve found that two things usually happen: (1) the image will invariably undergo a change in appearance, or emphasis, and (2) after finishing x-number of variations, one picture will often emerge as the strongest of the lot.
These two works are offered as examples of my love of “reflections:” At the left is Crucible of Deceit, a watercolor with colored pencil from 2009. At the right is Forgiveness, an acrylic painting from 2019. Both present faces with similar hybrid parts, but each addresses a different theme. From my way of thinking, Deceit is a softer treatment of the face than Forgiveness inwhich I tried to convey a darker, uglier countenance. Both works are the visual descendants of a small monoprint (Green Boy) from 2009, a work done just prior to Crucible ofDeceit.
There are several other works included in this exhibition that reveal this propensity of mine, including Winter Plums (2019). It followed Plums (1993) and Defiant Warrior (2004).
For persons unfamiliar with my work, the first question likely to be asked concerns the writing on my pictures; what does it mean?
I have been painting and exhibiting professionally since 1958, and have been writing (short stories at first, and later novels) since 1962. In 1973, words first appeared on one of my pictures as part of the composition, a mixed media work entitled Evil Conversations (image 1).In the upper right-hand corner, I wrote: “Everything was said with extreme caution…and then complete silence.” I cannot tell you exactly why I felt the need to incorporate the statement – or what it necessarily means – but at the time I felt compelled to make these words part of the picture. Since 1973, many of my paintings reflect what I’m calling a marriage of images and words.
Evil Conversations, 1973, Mixed Media 26”x 29”
A partial explanation for this penchant of mine is that my earliest goal as an artist – and my reason for studying art at Auburn University in the mid to late 1950s – was a desire to work as a magazine illustrator. At that time, I wanted to make pictures that conveyed the essence of someone else’s story. I suppose it’s fair to say that by 1973, I started illustrating my own stories. Perhaps it’s also accurate to say I think of myself less as a painter and more as a visual story-teller.
I want my pictures and stories to provokea viewer to engage with my creative vision and, in turn – through the process of empathy – draw their own meaning, or conclusion. I want my viewer to establish this personal “connection” with a work of mine through his or her own experiences and sensibilities. Some of my middle-school grandkids ask from time to time what certain of my pictures mean, and I always try to turn the question around. “Why don’t you study the picture for a few minutes and make up a story to go with it?” They never fail to do so! I challenge you to try this. If you’ll just trust your instincts and inclinations, I have the feeling you can establish that kind of personal connection. Remember, you don’t need any artist telling you what you are supposed to think or feel about a given picture. Trust your gut.
Noyes Capehart will be showing a collection of recent works at the Art Cellar Gallery in Banner Elk, North Carolina from August 20 – September 7, 2019. The reception scheduled for 4-6pm on August 24 is open to the public.
In the 1470s (or 1480s according to some courses) the Italian artist Sandro Botticelli painted his Primavera (below), likely as a wedding gift for the Medici family. The painting today is prominently displayed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, alongside Botticelli’s most celebrated masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.
I saw Botticelli’s Primavera for the first time in 1973, and have made a point of seeing it on each of my subsequent trips to Florence. On one such trip in 1994 – while leading a study abroad trip for Appalachian State University – I wrote a short story on the train from Florence to Lugano, Switzerland. The story was based on a dream I had while in Florence, a dream in which I was magically pulled into Botticelli’s painting and became part of the spectacle. Upon my return to the States and while completing my Primavera, I incorporated the entire draft of the story as part of the composition. Since the completion of my work in 1994, the story has been edited and re-written several times. However, no corrections or changes were ever made on the canvas once it was written in 1994.
Primavera, Noyes Capehart, Mixed Media Collage, 1994, 45” x 52”
Primavera is currently at the Art Cellar Gallery in Banner Elk, NC. A signed and personalized copy of my literary Primaverawill accompany the sale of this painting.
“The most unusual thing about him – and he was so ordinary in every respect – was his inability to generate a reflection.”
– From the Private Diary of Noyes Capehart
As with any painting (or art work of any kind), meaning is usually determined by the person experiencing the work or, as is sometimes the case, left dangling by one who feels less than comfortable in defining or accepting a particularized response. As an artist and writer, I have always taken the position that it is not my intention or responsibility to “spoon feed” a viewer a singular position regarding meaning. For an artist do so, I believe, is to overstep our role with visual dialogue. I want to believe it our job as artists to create pictures that will challenge a viewer to establish some relevant connection. It doesn’t matter that our viewers take away something other than our respective intentions. What matters is that a connection occurs…period.
That said, I will offer a few thoughts about Man of No Reflection: I was not considering the word reflection necessarily in terms of its literal definition. My interests here were more about using the word as a metaphor, a way of suggesting a person void of substance, or merit; a person lacking in such admirable human traits as empathy, compassion, and love and respect for others.
Persons may come to your mind who fit such a dark profile, and you may draw your own conclusions as to whether or not I had a specific person in mind as I approached this picture.
From a compositional perspective – subjective feelings with regard to meaning aside – I felt I had completed this painting when I reached the following state:
I positioned the canvas on our dining room wall and for several days studied it. I began to feel uncomfortable with the harsh contrast between the two vertical legs of the man and the horizontal base of the wall. The transition seemed forced, severe. It was then I incorporated the curved shape of the decorative pitcher. The pitcher not only provided a transitional shape between the vertical and horizontal ones, but it echoed the blue of the sky. The key takeaway here is that a painting probably needs to “simmer” for awhile after before we consider it done. Let it rest. Let it have the time to speak to you. Quite often, we’ll find the need for final adjustments.
Post script: The inverted image of the house came from a 1994 watercolor, Neglected Houses,shown below.
Man of No Reflections will be one of approximately twenty works in my August 20-September 7, 2019 exhibition at the Art Cellar Gallery in Banner Elk, North Carolina. The reception is scheduled for Sunday, August 24 from 2-6 pm. The public is invited.
“Moments before the painter Vuillard let his presence be known in the home, a brightly wrapped present was delivered by a man and placed at the feet of Vuillard’s sister and mother.”
–From the Private Diary of Noyes Capehart
I have been painting pictures for over sixty years. Like some artists, I have been and continue to be excited and influenced by the creative works of other artists. During my three years in New York City following my graduation from college in 1958, I worked as a guard and night watchman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During that time in my young life, I saw the paintings of the French painter, Edouard Vuillard, for the first time. The impact of his rich compositions was immediate and has been long-lasting.
In 1972, not long after I came to Appalachian State University’s Art Department as a faculty member, I executed a small watercolor called Danger at Vuillard’s. My picture was strongly based on Vuillard’s 1893 Interior, Mother and Sister of the Artist, a work currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
For the past year and a half, I have been producing paintings for my scheduled August 20 – September 7, 2019 exhibition at the Art Cellar Gallery in Banner Elk, North Carolina, Surprise at Vuillard’s will be one of approximately twenty featured works. The reception is scheduled for Sunday, August 24 from 4-6pm, and the public is invited.
In Surprise at Vuillard’s, I made use of a compositional device first employed by the Italian artist Masaccio in his 1425 fresco of The Tribute Money in the Brancacci Chapel at the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, Italy. Put simply, Masaccio’s compositional uniqueness came from the three changes he showed in time and space: (1) Jesus is seen in the center of the picture pointing to a nearby lake. He directs Peter to go there and from the mouth of a fish remove several gold coins to give to the tax collector. At the left (2), we see Peter crouching at water’s edge to retrieve the coins, and then at the extreme right side of the composition (3) we see Peter handing the coins to the tax collector.
In my acrylic painting, I have tried to suggest three changes in time and space by (1) showing Vuillard peering around a distant corner of the room, waiting to make his appearance known, (2) depicting a man about to enter through on open doorway carrying the gift, and (3) choosing to emphasize the moment when the two women are seen looking at and responding to the brightly wrapped present. In this instance, my respect for and appreciation of art history played a significant role in my decisions as a picture-maker.
I will confess this much about Surprise at Vuillard’s: the decision to structure this work on three time/space changes was not a predetermined one. As the image below of an earlier photographed stage of Surprise will show, there is a priest standing in an open doorway and there is no suggestion of Vuillard. (This image of the priest had earlier appeared in a 2008 painting titled The Vicar’s Dilemma, a work sold at my 2017 show at the Art Cellar Gallery.)
As it sometimes happens with my approach to painting and writing, serendipity often steps in and suggests changes with my initial thinking. It was only when I altered the image of the priest to that of a man carrying the gift that I realized the potential for affecting two changes in time and space. The real “Ah-ha!” moment came when I realized three time/space changes could be implemented if I attached a 12” x 24” canvas to the left edge of the 24” x 36” canvas in order to be able to incorporate the suggestion of Vuillard. (If one looks closely at the lower part of the composition where sizes of tiles change, one can see the vertical seam created by the addition of the second canvas.)
The excitement that came with the developments of Surprise at Vuillard’s always makes me eager to start painting the next picture or writing the next story. In my world, predetermined routine is not in my dictionary!
In the late 1970’s, during my time in the Art Department at Appalachian State University, I participated in the department’s Art Loan Program by placing this painting (The Caretaker ) in the office of the General College. Not long after the painting was installed, it was stolen, along with a few items from the office. The theft was promptly reported to the campus police and the university’s paper, The Appalachian. The paper ran a featured article on the incident but unfortunately the work was not recovered.
I have long since given up on the possibility of ever seeing the painting again, but who knows – given the scope of today’s Internet – someone out there just might see this and make a connection. If so, I’d love to hear from you. Please fill out the form below. I’ll happily provide the work shown below for information leading to the return of my painting.
“Late in the afternoon they would sit out back of the old house, waiting patiently for the coming of evening and the laughter of yesterday’s children.”
-From the Private Diary of Noyes Capehart
One of the most familiar features of art and music is that of variations, either variations on the works by other artists or musicians, or variations of one’s own creations. In music, for example, Beethoven wrote several variations of the final movement to his third symphony, the Eroica. Brahms followed with Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel. In art, Leonardo da Vinci executed three large versions of his Madonna of the Rocks. Vincent van Gogh is well known for his painting of Starry Night, but probably less well known is the fact that he painted over 18 versions of the theme. Picasso painted dozens of variations on Delacroix’s Women of Algiers. The making of artistic variations is one of the principle ways we (1) develop our own craft by studying the works of other artists, and (2) find the best solution for a given picture idea.
In 1993, while directing an academic program for Appalachian State University in Newport, Rhode Island, I passed an open field surrounded by a long rock wall. Atop the wall was a black crow. When I returned to my quarters, I executed a small watercolor (Image 3). Four years later, I returned to the rock wall and open field and painted Floaters (image 4). In Floaters, I “borrowed” the image of a red fishing boat from one of van Gogh’s paintings. A point I would like to make here: had the small watercolor of the crow on the wall not been made, it is highly doubtful Floaters would have ever been born.
“The floaters started arriving by mid-morning, eager to see Vincent’s colorful boat. I watched from the other side of the wall, equally excited by the stunning spectacle.” -From the Private Diary of Noyes Capehart
My first painting addressing the theme of an open widow came in 1993 with Plums (image 1). Nearly ten years later, a good friend of mine commissioned me to do a painting of his wife, Jill (image 2). He had seen Plums, and wanted me to do something that had a similar “look.” He added that he wanted the painting to reference her cherished mountains.
Intrigued with the idea of varying the imagery seen through an open window, I painted another variation in 2007, A Bowl of Cherries. In October Enigma, I incorporated two feathers and several small rocks. I consider this work to be more of a construction than a conventional painting. My most recent visit to the window theme came in December of 2018 with Winter Plums .The image of the building seen through the window came from Defiant Warrior, a work from 2004 based on an abandoned schoolhouse not far from my home in Boone, North Carolina.
No two artists think or paint in exactly the same way. My approach as a maker of visual images stems from the belief that the best pictures and stories are “found,” not pre-determined. In my world – which embraces writing and painting – there are architects and there are hunters. The architect pre-determines an outcome, while my hunter picks up the “scent” of a picture or story idea and pursues it until it is captured. One approach is no better than the other, but for me the hunter best reflects my instincts and priorities. Perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to variations; each picture reveals an unexpected option. If I make five variations of a given picture idea and position them along the wall, you can rest assured I’ll find myself returning to one of the five options as the one I favor the most. That’s what makes picture-making so much fun for me. But not all artists work or think this way, and that’s probably a good thing.