Man of No Reflection

Man of No Reflection, Noyes Capehart, 2019, Acrylic on canvas  36” x 36”

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:

Earlier image of No Reflections

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.

Neglected Houses, Watercolor, 1994,  17” x 23” , Private Collection

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.




Surprise at Vuillard’s

Surprise at Vuillard’s, Acrylic on canvas, 24” x 48”, 2019

“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.

Interior, Mother and Sister of the Artist , 1893,   Oil on canvas    
Danger at Vuillard’s, 1972, Watercolor , Noyes Capehart

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.

The Tribute Money, 1425   (fresco)   Masaccio

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.)

Surprise at Vuillard’s (earlier state)
The Vicar’s Dilemma , 2008, Acrylic

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!  



The Caretaker, Acrylic on Paper, Approximately 28 x 32″

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.

The Trophy Collectors, Etching, 10 x 12″

Creative Variations

Laughter of Yesterday’s Children,14” x 14”, Etching, 1974
Laughter of Yesterday’s Children 24” x 34”, Mixed media on paper, 1974, Art Cellar Gallery

“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 Crow: Newport, Watercolor, 14” x 18”, 1993, Private Collection
Floaters, Acrylic on Canvas,  20” x 24”, 1997, Private Collection


“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.

Plums, 1993, Acrylic on canvas (22” x 26”), Private collection
Jill, 2003, Acrylic on canvas (24” x 30”), Private Collection


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.

October Enigma,  2007, Acrylic Construction (20” x 24”), Art Cellar Gallery
Winter Plums, 2018, Acrylic on canvas (24″ x 30″)
Defiant Warrior, 2004, Acrylic on wood (11″ x 28″)

    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.