AN INTERVIEW WITH JOSE MARIA CAPRICORNE
By Charles Rowell

Callaloo, Vol. 21 No. 3, p.481-482

This interview was taped on January 28, 1988, at the home of the painter in Curaçao.

ROWELL: Will you talk about your background as it relates to your becoming a painter?

CAPRICORNE: Okay. I started as a boy, fourteen years old, to paint, but not painting on paper and so on. I started in a ceramics studio to paint on ceramics. So that was my first art. I worked for nine years at the ceramics studio and after that went to Brazil. In Brazil I worked in Rio de Janeiro, on porcelain; I painted on porcelain, but with gold. Later on you will see the influences of my decorations system that I learned at the pottery studio in my paintings and also the gold that I was using, the system--I say it like that--the system that I learned, to work with gold. After I lived in Brazil for two years, I went to Europe. I went to Amsterdam and studied at the School for Arts, and after that I went to the Institute for Graphic Arts. And after six years I finished my study and then worked for a lot of years in Amsterdam. But during that time I started to paint--my first exhibition was in 1962 in Amsterdam. The picture that I have shown you is called A Summer at Sea. That was my first--one of my paintings from 1962--for my first exhibition. Of course, you will see in my paintings the Caribbean influence: for instance, you'll see fishes, goats. You will see a lot of eyes in all my paintings. Eyes mean for me that the painting is a living object. You look at the painting, but the painting looks back at you. So there is a communication between the painting and the one who observes the painting. You will see also people from the Caribbean, faces like masks, influenced naturally the African culture, the Caribbean influence, and you will see also the influence of the time I lived in Europe. But the basis of my paintings is my education here in the Caribbean and in Brazil. You will see a lot of people with all kinds of clothes and a lot of decorations on the clothes. That is the influence that I had from Brazil--because in Brazil I met people from the Makumba religion--the way they act, the way they use the clothes, the way they dress, you see; you will see several women with the clothes on, all those clothes, the symbol, the influence from Brazil. You will see that I also use a lot of blue in my paintings. In the Caribbean, the sky is blue, the sea is blue; the fishes in my paintings are a symbol of our own islands--the island of Curaçao is like a fish in the Caribbean waters. I paint always the changes in life. You will see a lot of symbols that mean life is changing. You will see people with two faces. You will see people who are moving. You will see trees.

ROWELL: Will you talk more about the Brazilian influences on your paintings?

CAPRICORNE: My first education, of course, I got here in Curaçao, but after that I went to work in a studio in Brazil. And as I explained, I worked on ceramics . . . vases. I painted with gold. And it's a kind of experience that I got, working with gold and decorations, using lines, decorations, lines, and filling it with gold. So you will see it in several paintings, these lines, the decorations . . .

ROWELL: And the ones that I like so much over here [points to a painting on the wall]?

CAPRICORNE: Yes, you see a lot of faces have gold on them. So that was one influence, a big influence I got from Brazil, the decoration system and using gold in my paintings. But Brazil has made a very big impression on me because I went as a very young boy to Brazil. And what I saw in Brazil, all kinds of people, the way they live, the Brazilian religion, the Makumba--the people I saw were the people from Bahia. You see that in different paintings, even this painting [points] The Wedding. You see it's a kind of Bahian woman, and so I have a lot of paintings where you can see the same Bahian figures. Why Bahia? Because I must go back in my youth to the old people here in Curaçao and Bahia--they have the same way of acting. They remind me of my own country in my youth, you see.

ROWELL: So people in Bahia remind you of the people in your youth here in Curaçao? Why is that so? Why?

CAPRICORNE: Because I think the way they talk, the way they move, the way they wear their clothes, the way they act. But you will see also, one especially, one woman in my paintings. In my youth there was in the suburb where I lived a woman, and they called her the Black Rose. And this woman could do all kinds of wonders.

ROWELL: Magical powers?

CAPRICORNE: Magical, yes. She had a lot of magical power.

ROWELL: She was a voodoo woman?

CAPRICORNE: She was not a voodoo woman--they call it here, Bruha. But she had special powers. And that woman has always stayed in my mind, you see. And Bahia resembles Curaçao, old Curaçao. So you will always see that woman in my paintings . . .

ROWELL: As a kind of expression of her power?

CAPRICORNE: Yes. It's naturally old African culture that you will see back in Brazil and in Curaçao. So that is the woman that represents the old culture, all the traditions, all the folklore and the religion.

ROWELL: You know that's one of the things I'm noticing looking at all of your paintings here in your home--there's not a single one without faces, except the one with the flowers in the vase and even there the vase suggests faces. There are always faces in your paintings. How did that evolve?

CAPRICORNE: Yes. Look in my paintings--everything lives. Maybe it's a traditional way of thinking from, say, the old cultures, that everything has life in it.

ROWELL: And yet, somehow I keep thinking also of that magic I see here--I keep thinking of Brazil.

CAPRICORNE: You have seen it, very good. Because, as I explained, the influence from Brazil, the magic from Africa, the magic from the Caribbean--they are always in my paintings. It's the biggest part of it, you see. Here [points] you see another symbol, the magic box. The magic box is a symbol that life is always a secret. And if you open it, if you want to, you never can get a sense of life without knowing what life is, you see? And here this magic figure and these magic figures are talking about life, the magic of life. But they are also talking about the secrets of life. It's like where I grew up, with the old way of thinking that life is secret, the spiritual life, the magic life. And that is a part of . . .

ROWELL: Of the entire series?

CAPRICORNE: Yes. In the entire series and in all my paintings. That's, I think, the sense of my work, the secrets of life--that life will change.


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