New Yorker David Kapp Paints the Town Red, and Blue, and Yellow

There’s the New York City that outsiders flock to, full of expectations and fantasies. And then there’s the New York revealed to us by the creative people who were born there: Martin Scorsese, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Woody Allen, Robert Kushner, and Robert Mapplethorpe among them. David Kapp’s New York belongs with the latter camp. 

Following in a great artistic tradition of photographers, writers, filmmakers and poets, Kapp turns to his hometown as his perennial subject. In his expressionistic oil paintings, Kapp captures the buzzing rhythm of the streets of New York: an aerial view of pedestrians hurrying along a busy avenue, shadowy cityscapes set against the silhouette of skyscrapers, yellow taxis cutting each other off in traffic. The word “yellow” is key: Kapp’s New York isn’t portrayed in a muted watercolor or a spare line drawing in charcoal. It’s a rush of energy and color.

As art critic Ken Johnson pointed out in a 1998 review for The New York Times, even Kapp’s shadows are blue instead of black. Kapp’s paintings, he wrote, “are almost photographic in the way they freeze action, crop the visual field at oblique angles and capture stark contrasts of glare and shadow. They have a dreamy, mildly hallucinatory air and a mood of Hopperesque melancholy…Mr. Kapp’s angular compositions, decisive gestures and painterly energy reflect the harsh, kinetic beauty of the city itself.”

Although it’s clear that Kapp’s source of inspiration and fascination is his native New York, the painter has been branching out. Some of his latest works portray a geographic region where the use of color is practically obligatory: southern California. Does it get any more colorful, after all, than the palm tree-fringed Venice Beach boardwalk, crowded with Rollerbladers, bodybuilders, teacup poodles in bicycle baskets and people from every walk of life? It’s fitting that Kapp would show his Venice Boardwalk (2012) at a new exhibition, “David Kapp: New Work,” at a quintessentially southern California venue: Ruth Bachofner Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica.

Not that the siren call of the sunshine-dappled Pacific has permanently lured the artist away from the East Coast: the Venice Beach piece hangs alongside 5th Avenue South (2012), Lafayette Center (2014), Wall Street III, Looking Up (2014), and Ticket Lines at Citi Field (2014)—which is colorful and aesthetically pleasing, yes, but also deliciously authentic. What could be more New York than standing around in line before a Mets game at a ballpark in Queens?

Bridget Gleeson

David Kapp: New Work” is on view at Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica, Feb. 28 – Apr. 11, 2015.

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