Kevin Capon is an artist that uses photography to unravel particularities and conflicts in the pursuit of image-making. His oeuvre builds toward an enigmatic archive that describes human anxieties and the fading glory of modernity. Household objects and awkward figures become examples to illustrate noteworthy familial and societal phenomena. These themes are explored with a deadpan studio aesthetic that falls in the spectrum between commercial product and highly composed snapshot.
The way in which images continue to evolve and define culture influences Kevin Capon's approach. His 1984 portrait series documented New Zealanders in the arts using a traditional 8 x 10 large-format camera. The resulting contact prints of pioneers Colin McCahon and Ralph Hotere are equally represented alongside other accomplished creatives and media personalities by tight facial close-ups, a hallmark of Andy Warhol's era. Decadeslater, portraiture's obsession with the truth and fame has given way to fictional perspectives and the layperson. Accordingly, Capon's recent pieces use uncanny subjects to construct complex allegories.
Anonymous (2011) isolates a youth on a bustling intersection. The title of the work intrigues because the central figure seems anything but anonymous. Upon reading his glazed expression, unkempt long hair, flannel shirt, and protective headphones, a stock character emerges. We have seen this 'type' floating around cities and suburbia before. The artist uses a narrow depth of field and a viewpoint from behind the crowd's turned away heads to create a rich arena of speculation focused on this young man and his internal plight. This seems to invert the rest of the homogenous crowd into the work's eponymous character.
Certain images feel ambivalent while other compositions are meticulously staged for the lens, revealing a vision that gives equal consideration to chance encounters and pre-visualised strategies. Stem Graft (2012), depicts a tightly cropped hand as it skins the bark of young tree in preparation to combine it with foreign plant tissue. The work emphasises man's ability to intervene in the natural world and possibly contemplates genetic modification and stem cell research. In black and white, the image looks like a casual horticultural how-to illustration. This style contrasts starkly with Nose Bleed (2011), a saturated and theatrical advertisement for inexplicable suffering.
Kevin Capon's images quietly unnerve. Deadlock (2012) presents an absurd situation where keys are placed in the door, yet the bolt sticks out like a protective thumb against a third of the composition - an outer-space black void. What lies beyond? Doll (2011) similarly creates a sense of unease through the close-up of the toy's smudged face, wild hair and impenetrable eyes, the stuff of Hollywood horror tropes. All these readings are not final, but like a deft director, Capon provides enough information to interpret each case as it is presented, and the endless news stories and pure 'stuff' produced by our society will allow him to continually build his collection, a fascinating wunderkammer of our times.
Essay by Young Sun Han
EDUCATION: Lecturer in Photography, Wellington Polytechnic (1985-1990); AGFA Bursary, Wellington Polytechnic; Diploma in Photography, Wellington Polytechnic; Certificate in Graphic Design, Christchurch Technical Institute
AWARDS: Trust Waikato National Contemporary Art Award - Finalist (2007, 2006); COCA/Anthony Harper Contemporary Art Award, Christchurch - Finalist (2007); Waikato Society of Arts Award - Finalist (2006); Mana Magazine Photographic Competition - Winner (2003); Agfa-Gavert Sponsorship (1990); Agfa Photokina Travel Award to Cologne (1990); Art Quest International, NY - Merit Award Winner (1988); Hewlett Packard/Exposures Gallery Installation Sponsorship, Wellington (1987); Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council Grant (1984); Movements International Sponsorship (1984); Polaroid International Corporation Film Grant (1983)
COLLECTIONS:Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington; Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu; The Dowse, Wellington; Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui
PUBLIC EXHIBITIONS: Te Wheke: Pathways Across Oceania, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, (May 2020 – March 2022); Kevin Capon Portraits 1984-85; Mokau Museum and Gallery (2017); Bright Light, Soft Launch, Malcolm Smith Gallery (2017), Pingyao International Photo Festival (2015); Dunedin Public Art Gallery (2015); City Art Gallery (2015); Gus Fisher Gallery Auckland (2014); History in the Taking: 40 years of Photoforum, The Gus Fisher Gallery, Auckland (2014); Everyday Irregular, Sargeant Gallery, Whanganui (2011);Skins,Outdoor Billboard Project, Auckland (2009); Bridge Art Fair Berlin (2008); Portraiture from the Collection, Christchurch Art Gallery (2004); Mana Magazine Awards Exhibition, Archives NZ, Wellington (2003); Not by Subject, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui (2000);Taranaki Photographers, Govett Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth (1995); The Chair Show, C.S.A. Gallery, Christchurch (1991); From Today Painting is Dead, National Art Gallery, Wellington (1990); Our Culture My Nature / About Time, NZ Centre for Photography, Wellington and Artspace, Auckland (1990); Kevin Capon Photographs, C.S.A. Gallery, Christchurch (1990); Kevin Capon Portraits 1984-85, C.S.A. Gallery, Christchurch (1987); Contemporary New Zealand Photographers, Fisher Gallery, Auckland (1989); Art Quest 88, LA Fine Art Gallery; Philadelphia Beaver College Art Gallery; Long Island University; Hillwood Art Gallery, NY (1988); Kevin Capon Portraits 1984-85, Dunedin Public Art Gallery (1988); Kevin Capon Portraits 1984-85, The Dowse, Wellington (1986); Figure Fragmented, National Art Gallery, Wellington (1986); Photographs by Kevin Capon, Photographers Gallery, Christchurch (1983); Forms in Light, Kevin Capon and Maurice Lye, C.S.A. Gallery, Christchurch (1981); National Student Exhibition Tour, Photo Art 79, NZ (1979); NZ Students Arts Council National Tour, NZ (1978); 3 x Change, University of Auckland (1975)
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY: Art New Zealand issue 166, 2018 'Reciprocity' by John B. Turner, D-Photo Magazine 2018 'A compelling Commentary' by Adrian Hatwell, Australia and New Zealand Photography International Magazine and Art New Zealand as well as various dealer gallery artist books and he was selected by photo-historian William Main for a public lecture entitled Four Contemporary New Zealand Photographers at City Art Gallery, Wellington NZ. Artists from the Collection, Christchurch: Christchurch Art Gallery (2010); Unlimited: A Year of City Art Rooms, Auckland: City Art Rooms, 2008; ‘Life of Kevin Capon’ by Peter Bateman, Australia and NZ Photography International Magazine, Vol 10, No. 1, 1996, pp 50-54; ‘Sexuality, Nature and Spirituality: The Photography of Kevin Capon’ by Gary Wilby, Art NZ, Issue 58, Autumn 1991, pp 46-49; Four Contemporary NZ Photographers by William Main (Public Lecture), City Art Gallery, Wellington, 1988