Abstract art has gone 12 rounds with Western audiences since it came from the East in the 19th century. A century after its successes with Expressionists and Impressionists, Post Impressionists, e.g. Van Gogh, gave inspiration to abstract artists to explore emotion over realism. In the 1950s, broad audiences struggled to appreciate how one person’s expression of emotions as ideas was worth their time compared to the rise of pop art.
Abstract minimalist Ginnie Cappaert seems to have married the gamut of Western abstract art by focusing on natural landscapes—unanchored by historical events (like some works of the 19th century), thus open to timeless interpretations. Her perspective and technique grant an accessibility to her work. Audiences are given a sense of place and perhaps a time of day, but are then left to fill in the scene with their own experiences.
“There’s a lot of suggestion going on,” says Ginnie. “And a lot of that suggestion happens because of the many layers in the pieces. Most of these have about 30 or 40 layers where I’m adding paint and scraping away and removing and dissolving to get back to what’s underneath. So I’m sort of building up this history and then unearthing it to bring forward what I’d buried.”
It’s essentially the opposite of what the audience does to find meaning in the piece—building and adding themselves to finish the production process. Ginnie’s thoughtful editing capitalizes on texture and abstraction, but her use of color is where the strongest suggestions are articulated. “I really am a colorist. I use color as a sense of feeling.” We are given clear ideas about the setting, like weather and place, by how vibrant or earthen the given palette.
“I work kind of earthy muted, but then some are so bright. I think a lot of it is my sense of space and time when I’m working on certain series. I spend a lot of time every winter in my offseason out in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The light there is so bright and intense that when I’m there, I don’t even realize it. It affects my work, and my colors are so much more intense. When I get back home to the Midwest, the difference is striking. That’s usually in March, when everything is grey here. I get back here, and I slip into this more-muted earth tone because that’s what we have here.”
Upon close observation, each piece brings with it a full range of sounds and touch, harkening to the other senses with a high degree of intimacy. “That’s the exciting part about art for me,” says Ginnie. “I don’t want to look at a pretty picture that paints every grain of sand or every cloud in the sky or every feather on the bird. I prefer a little more mystery and subduedness.” By constructing the idea of a landscape, Ginnie forces her audiences to impart themselves onto the painting so they can make sense of where and when the scene is taking place.
Ultimately, her methods create familiarity through obscurity, taking away the “you just don’t get it” attitude and replacing it with something teetering on the edge of surreal with roots firmly set in reality. “I want to lightly suggest maybe the forest or maybe the water, but I want the audience to take it from there and put their own memories and thoughts into what that piece actually could be.” Even something as simple as a canvas split with blue on top and green on the bottom, suggesting a field, starts to reveal depth through texture and wrinkled lines like those creasing old photographs. What results is something that isn’t just any field to the viewer, but the field they grew up next to or a favorite picnic spot.
These types of connections direct much of Ginnie’s work, and it goes back to her education. “I actually did not study art. I went to school for business.” To Ginnie, art is a creative endeavor first, but you don’t become a career artist after 20-plus years simply because you got lucky. “When my second child was born, I decided to quit what I call my ‘real job’ to stay home and work on my art. It just kind of grew and developed from there by taking workshops and really studying and putting in the time in the studio. You’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t put in the time.”
The other half of Ginnie’s life as an artist revolves around her gallery in Egg Harbor, Door County. It allows her to use her degree while being true to her creative nature. “I love when I work the gallery, and I get people from all over. We get chitchatting about travel or so or that. My whole world is opened up when I can sit and work in that gallery and talk to customers all day. … When the galleries that represent me sell my work, I know nothing about who the buyer is or what home [the piece] is going into. It’s like you paint your little babies and send them off, and you don’t know what happens to them in many cases.”
Different series of paintings Ginnie explores are parts of her experiences. She’s been fortunate to travel around the world, to New Zealand and Ireland. But I think she can rest easy knowing that even those she hasn’t met who buy her work have found something of themselves in her paintings. “They don’t necessarily want the old ruins in Ireland hanging on their walls because it means so little to them. But the abstractedness or the color of the texture of the peat fields or the old stones work their way into my work.”
Abstract art has gone the distance, and Ginnie’s contributions celebrate its past while proposing a wider impact can be more powerful than a pointed one.
To see Ginnie’s work, visit her gallery or go to gcappaert.com , where you can also learn about her annual workshop.
Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor for Madison Essentials, and a writer and beer enthusiast (sometimes all at once) living in Sun Prairie.
Cappaert Contemporary Gallery
7901 WI-42, Egg Harbor, WI
Open May through October