“My artwork is about telling stories,” says the artist Karen Cappotto. “I always thought that I would become a writer, but I discovered that telling my story visually works better for me.”
In her paintings and collages, Cappotto explores the themes of loss, remembrance, change, and preservation. The place she revisits again and again in her work is Provincetown, where she lives. “Some places have more feelings to them, and Provincetown is one of them,” she says.
Cappotto’s upcoming show at the AMP Gallery, opening Friday, includes a new series of collages titled Souvenirs, which capture Provincetown moments. The small-scale works on aged wood will be displayed in a grid alongside work by Pasquale Natale. Cappotto will also be showing paintings from her Meadowville series.
“I collage photographs and objects that give a sense of time passing,” Cappotto says. “Historic places in town are torn down, and the people who lived in them are forced to leave or die. My hope is that my Souvenir series tells their stories in some form. Our shared legacy doesn’t end, and that keeps us connected.”
Cappotto was born and raised in Syracuse, N.Y. and spent years living in Ireland. She visited Provincetown for the first time in 1988. She summered here before moving here full-time five years ago.
Collages were Cappotto’s earliest way of creating art in her youth. After studying at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in her late 30s, she became known primarily as a collagist. In 2011, she opened Peg + Dick, a collage and decoupage studio named after her parents. “They’re effortless and humorous to me,” says Cappotto of her collages. “I laugh when I am working on them.”
Cappotto’s return to collage in her Souvenir series is a rumination on what is left when we’re gone. “I used to sell T-shirts as souvenirs,” says Cappotto. “Now I’m wondering: why do people save tokens? And what do we choose to take with us from a vacation or trip and save? Our souvenirs become our memories — our stories from the past.” Cappotto’s recent loss of her father has deepened these questions. She creates her collages on pieces of old wood left over from her father’s furniture-making workshop.
Objects left behind were also the inspiration for a series of large-scale paintings titled Meadowville that have been Cappotto’s primary focus since 2015. She was preparing for a retreat in Vermont on a bitterly cold winter day when a friend called with an urgent request. He had been ordered to vacate his mint-green summer rental cottage, part of a cottage community that had just been sold, but he was out of town.
“I arrived at Cesar’s cottage and pushed his unlocked door open,” Cappotto remembers. “Confronted by a deeply personal space filled with summer possessions now silent and frozen, never intended to be sifted through by someone else, I found myself overwhelmed by the enormous finality of a moment that so vividly illustrated the relentless tide of gentrification on the Outer Cape.”
Shaken by the experience, Cappotto arrived in Vermont the next evening. There, she heard the poet Brian Teare read a piece titled “Star Thistle.” The yellow star thistle is an invasive weed that was destroying the poet’s beloved meadows in Southern California: “It looks beautiful on its surface, like golden velvet, but underneath the star thistle is all thorns,” she explains. “When it takes over, it destroys the ecosystem of the land.”
After learning that her friend’s cottage community called themselves “the sisters of village meadow,” Cappotto drew a connection in her mind. “For five years, I’ve been painting historical places in Provincetown that are disappearing,” she says.
Cappotto paints what she feels as much as what she sees. In her studio overlooking the harbor, she points at a sweeping painting-in-progress on the wall. It shows an enclosed cove cradling sailboats depicted in a mélange of lightly sketched elements and soft-hued paint. The land surrounding the cove is speckled with small cottages. The painting emanates a feeling of the distant past.
“When I think of Provincetown, I see two arms wrapped around water,” says Cappotto. “My paintings are my voice. They are me trying to match a place with my emotions.”
When asked which souvenirs she hopes viewers will take away from the show, Cappotto says, “I like it when people bring their own story to my work. Hopefully, there’s room in my paintings and collages for viewers to roam around in their own narratives.”
The event: Works by Karen Cappotto, alongside ones by Pasquale Natale, Bobby Busnach, Jamie Casertano, and Katrina del Mar
The time: Friday, Sept. 24 through Oct. 31
The place: AMP Gallery, 432 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: Free