Kintsugi: A Contemplative Whole

One of the reasons to visit the GPAG (Grimsby Public Art Gallery) is the diversity of exhibitions. Both regional (Tony Calzetta) and more national (Carl Beam) narratives have played out at the GPAG. The current exhibition, Kintsugi, (the Contemplative Art of Bruno Capolongo), also blends contemporary and historical concepts from numerous places, with the artist’s own experiences acting as a point of cohesion.

Capolongo’s work fills the gallery, and there’s variations among the paintings but also visual “rivers” (I want to use that term, as the golden grooves and rich shining “canals” within the works do act as connections between the “islands” of artwork). But to begin, “Capolongo explores kintsugi and the related Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi (where flaws and imperfections are embraced) as a metaphor for human experience. Kintsugi (golden joinery) or kintsukuroi (golden repair) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold or other precious metals. Rather than attempting to hide the breakage, what is broken is accented, becoming part of the object’s history.”

That offers nuance to what’s presented: but whether you know that or not is not intrinsic to the enjoyment (or contemplation) of his works. Capolongo’s works of vases and other almost banal objects (Ginger Pot, or Saki Cup with Kintsugi) are rendered with a richness and chiaroscuro that is Rembrandtesque in its quality of light and form. A trio of vases that are smartly framed in black that enhance the imagery, and with golden craquelure, contrasts evocatively with the still life realism.

In one corner, several “details” – such as Yearning (icon II) – of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa (variations on Teresa’s face, from different angles, emphasising the emotional vitality of this dynamic Baroque sculpture, referencing Teresa’s orgasmic encounter with angel) depend on no external explanation. They’re evocative and will root you in that corner. One “portrait” suggests, in texture and tone, a more bronzed patina that seems aged and a bit corroded: the white gold used by Capolongo counters, and enhances, the emotive nature of the work.

Various other pieces act as separate chapters within a larger story. The aforementioned still lives balance abstraction / realism, whereas others are more ornate and less “objective”, like the Chuh Teh-Chun series. (I must mention Ad Reinhardt, and his writings on abstraction within the Islamic and Asian traditions, and what can be learned and amalgamated from that into contemporary abstraction). The sumptuous gold defines but doesn’t overwhelm (in specific works, but in the installation as a whole). Capolongo also offers saki cups mended (or realised?) with thick, almost viscous gold, to be whole and utile again, as literal examples of kintsugi. Other pieces, like Winged Dragon (Qianlong Charger with Kintsugi) blend pattern, realism and concept in a seamless yet broken manner. The details are overwhelming, and suggest a delicate and rigorous artist’s hand, as deliberate as it is flawed (as anyone’s hand would be).

That the nature of creativity isn’t always smooth, and is sometimes fraught with accidents that help to foster better artworks, is a subtext of Capolongo’s aesthetic.

Kintsugi is on display until January 14, 2018 at the Grimsby Public Art Gallery. More of his works and information about Capalongo can be found here. All images are courtesy of the artist’s website (Yearning (Icon II), Ginger Pot and Saki Cup with Kintsugi, respectively).