“Time has worked as the preeminent designer of our planet”
AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging with art?
EC: I am from a small town in upstate New York, where I grew up on a lake in the middle of the woods. I have been living and working in Brooklyn for almost a decade now, though. I started engaging with my creative side when I was a small child. During that time both of my grandmothers had an artistic influence on me. My American grandmother put art and visual culture books in front of me regularly. She strongly encouraged me to draw and write, and I remember spending a lot of time being studious at her house. On the other hand, my Italian grandmother was more of an example of practice. I learned by watching her work in the kitchen in a very old-world and resourceful fashion. She would reuse a bread loaf bag to transfer grated ingredients or have very specific techniques to get every last drop out of something. The way she would transform ingredients into new textures and forms, and how her kitchen-studio setting operated were all very fascinating and formative to me. Everything was thoughtfully performed.
AT: When did it become serious?
EC: It’s always been a part of my life since as far back as I can remember. Looking back, I think it was very important to have the exposure of being born into a bicultural family in a small town. That really put on display the vast cultural differences which influenced my way of thinking about the world and my place in it. To me, Art is a way of seeing, communicating, and understanding the world physically and conceptually.
AT: Are there any person who has been significant in your breakthrough as an artist?
EC: Two of my college professors heavily influenced me, both short and long term. One was an art history professor who really engaged me to dig deeper into my understanding of art and visual culture. She was truly fantastic and pushed me in ways I didn’t know I needed at that time. The other was my graduate school sculpture professor, who helped to forge a more significant work ethic of experimentation and ideas in my practice. Both of them opened the door to the next level of possibility for me.
AT: What is your first approach to the work? How would you describe your practice?
EC: I spend a lot of time looking at imagery online and in books, almost as if I’m looking for clues. It has become common for me to binge on particular art genres and artists, and I find it’s a good exercise to engage with, really. My partner and I discuss art related topics almost daily, so that helps to navigate on micro and macro levels. When I’m in the studio, I usually start visualizing different methods or ways to build a painting. There is a lot of back and forth, accepting and rejecting ideas as it progresses. I rarely stay on one path when I begin a new piece, though. My work has never been about sticking to a plan, as I tend to give room to unexplored territories as it builds up or erodes along the way. There’s a lot of push and pull involved and things evolve rather slowly.
AT: What do you aim to reach with your work?
EC: The process I’ve developed usually leads me to a place that references a lot of my experiences growing up in the wilderness. I’m prone to being very affected by what’s going on with the planet and how humans have impacted it since the industrial revolution. It’s not easy to witness world events slowly unfolding and have an idea of where we’re heading. Making art has become a very revealing activity and I’ve discovered a lot of narrative qualities with my work. References to earth, industry, topography, landscaping, mapping, flora, etc., appear prevalent, and there seems to be a strong connection between the visual, tangible, and variables that have shaped our environments that I’m reaching at. Although, to me, the larger theme I am dealing with is Time, which the work represents a crystallization of. My process involves an explicitly sculptural phase with the canvas, where it is physically manipulated into a form. That’s followed by a slow build up of washes that are typically comprised of water, acrylic paint, and salt. Gradually, the wash settles and dries into the form of the canvas. With each step, it solidifies the layer before it, and, little by little, this transforms the canvas into something completely new as it begins to take on its own identity. In my opinion, people tend to view time, more so, relative to a human lifespan. I find it difficult to grasp the idea that the earth has been here for billions of years, but witnessing a baby eventually grow into an adult is a much easier frame to grasp. Our physical environment has been slowly shaped by time, and this has come to foster a deeper, more meaningful connection that we share with nature due to the fact that our survival is intrinsically tied to it. Time has worked as the preeminent designer of our planet. It offers us sublime experiences like the Grand Canyon, or, magnificence of Mount Everest. It can be mind boggling to think of time in regard to these natural phenomena and how humans have situated themselves within this frame only recently. Ultimately, the aim is to create an awareness of this, and to also show its fragility and impermanence with the advent of our own needs and technological evolution.
AT: What are your favorite tools and materials for working?
EC: I prefer to work on a solid floor surface, like sealed concrete. Typically I use heavily watered down acrylic mixed with salt, but sometimes I introduce volcanic ash, marble dust, and fire as well. Buckets, a lot of water, and a high powered fan are studio must haves. And a good speaker system always helps.
AT: What do you feel while you work? Do you usually think about the final outcome beforehand?
EC: There comes a point, usually about midway through working on a canvas, that I start to get so wrapped up in it, that it becomes somewhat romantic. I’ll know every contour, slope, and form like the back of my hand, and with each additional layer, it slowly reveals more and more. I’ll start to really understand how the form and texture of the canvas operates. There’s a step that something changes, something shifts, and the direction and potential of whats been formed starts to present itself.
Untitled, 2019, Silver acrylic with salt on Fabriano watercolor paper 52 x 52 in
Untitled, 2019, Graphite acrylic with salt on Fabriano watercolor paper, 52 x 52 in
AT: How do you understand that a work is finished?
EC: When I start to think a work is finished, I know it isn’t. And because I work so incrementally, I’ll push it further and try to get everything out of it that I can. Once it’s dry, I pin it up on the wall and begin a new conversation, both as an object and as a painting, and that can last days or weeks.
AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from?
EC: I think you have to put in the time and develop a routine. Eventually the language will start to emerge. I find a lot more benefit to having a routine with my practice, to explore and push boundaries, rather than feeling inspired to do so.
AT: Are there any artists who influenced your works? Why?
EC: This is a short and ever evolving list of artists I have paid a lot of attention to in recent years, in no particular order: Peter Veermersch, Davina Semo, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Tauba Auerbach, Wyatt Khan, Jen Guidi, Steven Parrino, Jessica Mockrin, Robert Bordo, Vaughn Spann, Tom Burr, Brie Ruais, Hugh Hayden, Chris Oh, Jenny Lee, Sam Falls, Nick van Woert, Tara Donovan, Vivien Greven, Rudolf Stingel, Clyfford Still, Robert Smithson, David Hammons, Claire Fontaine, Anish Kapoor, Sterling Ruby, Walead Beshty, Edith Dekyndt, Liat Yossifor, Arcangelo Sassolino… It’s important to look at what other artists are doing. It helps to develop your own expertise to criticize yourself and be able to push your work further. If I am quickly satisfied with something, I am highly skeptical of it.
AT: How important is the role of social media for you?
EC: I didn’t take social media seriously, namely Instagram, until about 4 years ago. I spent a summer away from my studio and went home to help my parents out. Unexpectedly, it became a really important way to stay connected to other artists, discover new ones, have critiques, and strike up art and life-related conversations. It’s become an important tool to contemporary art.
AT: As an artist, what is your point of view about the contemporary art system?
EC: I find it varies quite a bit place to place. Especially in NYC, there is a lot of aesthetic trendiness that occurs with what is popular at the time. Just because it’s popular doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good. It’s definitely a love/hate relationship (laughing).
AT: What do you find to be the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art? What is the most rewarding part of working as an artist?
EC: That’s a great question. The challenge to push work further than before, and actually achieve something new, is very appealing. You have to take risks, even if it means potentially ruining something you’ve spent a lot of time on. The most daunting thing is not being able to push work. I’ll likely become dissatisfied if a painting is realized too quickly. Really, if there’s no challenge, why even make it in the first place? The reward is the freedom to create work, push boundaries, and express yourself in ways you haven’t before. It’s a discovery of self, really. No one is the same person they were a year ago, or even a day ago, so it feels like an evolution of your own being. ‘You never step in the same river twice’, right?
AT: What do you do besides art?
EC: I work privately in the art and design world(s). I grew up within a family contracting business where I was introduced to dealing with interior walls and spaces early on. I enjoy the transformational process of shaping a home environment, and it bleeds into some of my ideas about my own work as well. It had more of an impact on me once I began viewing it through the lens of art, particularly as a sculptural experience. It’s good to get a better understanding of people’s aesthetic decisions and learn about their art ideas behind it. It’s a great bridge to connect art and life.
AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?
EC: As of now, my sights are set on getting to the other side of the pandemic. Although, it has been good to see a reset of the art world and I’m intrigued to see new work that people have made in reaction to this collective experience. But, at some point, I would like to have a space that allows me to work on a scale that can better investigate the objecthood of my paintings as they relate to larger ideas. One day at a time I suppose.
Emond Caputo (b. 1985) is a mixed-media artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Born and raised on a lake, he spent most of his childhood immersed in the flora and fauna of geological upstate New York: his work reflects the experiences of his upbringing. Caputo has a Master’s of Fine Art degree in painting and sculpture from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He has exhibited his work extensively throughout New York and is in numerous private collection.