Bruno Capolongo and the Art of Kintsugi

April 22, 2018 Length: 16:17 View Attachment

Bobby Maddex interviews Bruno Capolongo, a full-time artist and convert to Orthodox Christianity who attends All Saints of North America Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and specializes in the art of kintsugi. Please see the attachment for an example of kintsugi.

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Mr. Bobby Maddex: Welcome to Ancient Faith Presents…. I’m Bobby Maddex, Station Manager of Ancient Faith Radio, and today I will be speaking with Bruno Capolongo. Bruno is a full-time artist and a convert to Orthodox Christianity, and he attends All Saints of North America Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Welcome to the program, Bruno.

Mr. Bruno Capolongo: It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Mr. Maddex: All right. So, Bruno, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mr. Capolongo: Well, I live and work in the Niagara region, about 40 minutes from the border with the U.S. I live with my wife and two children; I’ve been married for about 23 years now. As you said, I’m a full-time artist, and I’m also the owner of BCFA, which is the studio and gallery that I operate, where adults study with me; they study fine art. I’m also an exhibiting artist and have exhibited widely in North American and have galleries in the States and in Canada that represent me. I’m fortunate to also be in a number of private and corporate collections.

I think importantly I was born and raised by Italian parents, so my influence, the Italian influence, was very foundational for me. I went to Italy as a young person, spent a lengthy trip there, and then subsequent to that went back four or five more times for other trips which cemented my sense of aesthetics and the importance of art in my life. I guess finally I went to a number of art schools including my undergraduate work at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Actually, I did my Master’s at Norwich University, which is States-side.

Mr. Maddex: All right, so somewhat unusually, you were both an Orthodox Christian and a full-time artist, which does not happen very often. Tell us how your faith has impacted your work.

Mr. Capolongo: I was received into the Orthodox Church in 2015, but even from my very early years, I was very serious-minded, very conservative. My mother used to joke and call me an old man even as a very young child because of how conservative I was. So I think this conservatism and Christian worldview have been really major influences and a guide. I think it’s very clear to anybody that it’s been a guide for me in my work, just looking at the subjects I’ve worked with as well. Some is overt in its Christianity, and others not so much, but I’ve worked with apocalyptic themes, I’ve worked with social issues, Christian symbolism and mysticism, and I’ve always had this aversion to this unrestrained sensualism that you see somewhat typically in the art world. There’s a little bit too much of that. Importantly as well, I think faith for me has always equaled freedom as an artist, but freedom with responsibility, the responsibility to family, to Church, and to society. That’s always been this sort of guiding principle for me, that there is responsibility as an artist, that you don’t have this unrestrained freedom.

I just think it’s impossible to look at my work and my career outside of the fact that I’m a person of faith.

Mr. Maddex: So whenever you’re talking about an Orthodox Christian artist, the topic of iconography is always going to come up. Do you work with icons and with traditionally inspired Orthodox art forms as an Orthodox Christian artist, or do you kind of steer clear of that?

Mr. Capolongo: This comes up all the time, and whenever I mention to people in Orthodox circles who have not met me yet that I am an artist, that will always come up: “Oh, do you work with icons?” While I’m inspired and influenced by great Orthodox or Byzantine art and architecture, and I’ve even been tempted to start a neo-Byzantine cycle of work or style, but I’ve never really felt called to do icons. Icons are liturgical, right? They’re in a category of their own. I’ve never really felt compelled by anybody—by the Church, by any individual or by the Church at large—to do iconography. I don’t think artists, Orthodox artists, are at all restrained in genre, technique, or style to doing only liturgical art. That’s great, because my artistic direction is very natural and fluid and free, and it constantly evolves. I’m very glad for that.

Mr. Maddex: Not long ago, you encountered something called kintsugi. If I pronounce that incorrectly, let me know. I understand that this has affected your work tremendously, significantly. What exactly is kintsugi?

Mr. Capolongo: Well, kintsugi dates back to a 15th century Japanese legend, where a shogun by the name of Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a prized but broken tea bowl back to China for repair. What he received in return was not very pleasing. He received his vessel back with staples holding it together. Some of us have seen that in museums, where you’ll see staples holding a broken vessel together. It’s very unpleasant, and he thought so. The long and short of it is that, coming from that was a very different way of looking at kintsugi.

Now, what is kintsugi exactly? Kintsugi, also known as kintsukuroi, means golden repair or golden joinery. It’s the fine craft of taking damaged or broken vessels—pottery, earthenware, that is—and repairing it in such a way that the damage or the breakage or even sometimes the missing pieces—there’s not an effort to hide the history of the vessel; rather, there’s an embellishing of it and the accenting of it by covering those areas and filling those areas with gold and sometimes other precious found objects. So, in effect, at the end of this process, this broken vessel is actually all the more beautiful for what it has gone through. So the history is not denied; the history of the vessel goes into its remaking, its rebirth, if you like.

Mr. Maddex: So you have these artworks that are repaired in a beautiful way. Is the power of kintsugi its symbolism? What’s going on there?

Mr. Capolongo: Absolutely. There’s a very powerful aesthetic just looking at it. If someone really just doesn’t understand what they’re looking at, they are taken by one thing: it’s beautiful, especially when it’s done really well. For me, when I first encountered kintsugi, I did encounter it in an artistic situation, but there was also a social context. That was in late 2014; I was involved in a charity, and I was for a number of years involved in a charity which helped women who were caught up in the trafficking industry, sex trafficking overseas. In one of the emails I received, there was a beautiful image of a kintsugi bowl, and they used this as a symbol for redemption, for how these women would be saved from this industry and, over a course of literally up to two years, they would be remade as human beings and given their life back.

When I saw that image, I just froze, and a lot of things started coming together for me. It was a domino effect in my work. So until kintsugi, until that point anyway, my work was largely very ordered and I demanded very strict control over my work. I pre-planned so much. But the influence of kintsugi has been more consistent, if you like, with the Church. This has really influenced my work: to live more by faith. Instead of pre-determining everything and being so rigid… I always knew that there was sort of this interim time that I needed to work on this, but this kintsugi influence led me to be more at peace and accept things as they come, not just in my work but in my life.

Now the control is largely relinquished in my work, my kintsugi work, that is. Where I used to be extremely careful to do everything meticulously and pick out the most perfect boards and make sure my gessoing, or priming if you like, was perfectly done, now it’s quite literally the opposite. I now smash things, I drop, break, and cut things before I even start the artwork my substrates are broken. I literally break them. I even have other people intervene and break things for me before I start the painting. Then I pick things up and put them back together and then start the work of making the—well, I guess the starting point was actually the breaking, wasn’t it? But then I continue the process until I finish the work of art.

This reflects, I think, the process I work with now, it kind of reflects the role of chaos in life as well, where I think of chaos as a different kind of influence that’s out there, be it through other people or of unseen forces in our lives. In my case, it was very helpful that my introduction to kintsugi came during a time of personal turbulence and trials. It was actually at a time of considerable humbling for me. But I found that being brought low also brought me closer to God, to family, and literally made me a better person. Just like the kintsugi pottery, I was cracked and I was broken at that time. It was the lowest point in my life, actually, yet through that brokenness I experienced blessings. In that respect, kintsugi helped make real what the Orthodox Christian faith has always taught and what the early Christians also experienced, namely, that when we are weak, humbled, and even broken, those cracks and breaks in life are often what allow the light to enter us. Whereas pride and arrogance make us hardened clay in the hands of the Potter, and the Potter I mean God himself.

Just like St. Paul, for instance, he was like hard clay, and he had to be literally thrown down and blinded for a time so he could be quiet and truly see. Later in the story of his life, in 2 Corinthians, we see where Christ tells Paul, literally tells Paul, “My power is perfected in weakness.” Then Paul himself says, later on, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” There’s other places, too, where the symbol and the image of pottery is used in reference to human beings.

Anyway, I could never really understand those verses, though, especially the ones I just quoted to you, as I do now until I myself experienced how weakness and those accompanying experiences actually brought me closer to God. I think that’s also because of my Christian worldview, and I was tempered to understand that difficulties can actually be growth experiences. So I think kintsugi resonates with the Orthodox Christian ethos, where humility, sacrifice, trials and suffering are accepted as part of the life of faith, and, in hindsight, if our hearts are softened and we trust in faith and learn from those times of difficulty, they are found to be truly times of growth and even great blessings at times. I think it’s a matter of how one approaches life, though, right? I mean, clearly there’s deep spiritual yearning evident all around us, but countless distractions and many offerings in the marketplace—they’re usually leaving us increasingly empty, and they prove vain and hopeless.

So kintsugi is, I think, Bobby, a beautiful reminder of the true contentment, and wholeness is found in ways that defy our expectation, and contradict so much that we hear and see in popular culture. So when you ask how kintsugi has made an impact on my work as an Orthodox Christian, I can’t help but see kintsugi as an act of faith, that all is not lost when things look terrible out there, when life has got you low, that there is hope after these trials and difficulties, and that one can pick up the pieces of life and experience a renewal, rebirth after these trials. In fact, being left in pieces is a normal part of life I think we don’t hear enough about. Trials and difficulties, they come. They are part of life; that is life. We shouldn’t live in denial about that. But the thing is, what kintsugi teaches us is that we don’t stay broken. We don’t stay broken. Kintsugi is not about brokenness. It’s about redemption, it’s about wholeness, it’s about healing. One can rise out of those ashes like the phoenix. The ashes of trials and loss: you’re supposed to rise from them.

So at the crux of it, for us as Christians, this is made even more real. For me, kintsugi is a beautiful, if imperfect, symbol of the ultimate and ongoing kintsugi that we see in the Redeemer, Christ himself.

Mr. Maddex: Well, Bruno, I hope to post an example of kintsugi with the description of this podcast so that people can see what we’re talking about. But beyond that, is it possible for all that you’ve been saying—I mean, there’s a lot of spiritual and theological weight to what you’re saying—can that be conveyed to someone who just is routinely going through and seeing these works in an exhibit?

Mr. Capolongo: I think we always bring our worldview and our experiences with us. If a very young person who has lived somewhat of an ideal life views a kintsugi vase or bowl in a museum and then reads a little bit or hears a little bit of what I’ve said, they will not quite experience it the way someone perhaps who is more mature or who’s gone through difficulties. I don’t think so. I think you really empathize with what I’ve said, can really grasp what I’ve said, only truly through personal experience.

Mr. Maddex: All right, well, I really appreciate your spending some time with me today, Bruno, and introducing us to this kintsugi form of art. I hope our listeners will make the effort to go and find more about what you’re doing. Is there anything else that you would like to add before I let you go today?

Mr. Capolongo: Yeah, I think it’s that in kintsugi... art, faith, and culture and the Orthodox Christian worldview all really converge in kintsugi. So, listeners, if they want to see some of my own work, they can go to brunocapolongo.com and see videos and paintings and even pottery—I’ve started doing pottery, flat and three-dimensional. Besides my own work, you can search and see other wonderful content on the internet. There’s amazing short videos, really well done, and some other people are doing really wonderful work. They should search under the word kintsugi or even wabi-sabi, which is the Japanese philosophy and aesthetic which gave us kintsugi.

Mr. Maddex: Awesome. I will include that link in the description of this podcast so listeners can go ahead and look that up and learn more about kintsugi. I thank you so much for joining me, Bruno.

Mr. Capolongo: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you so much, Bobby.

Mr. Maddex: Once again, I have been speaking with Bruno Capolongo. I’m Bobby Maddex, and this has been a listener-supported presentation of Ancient Faith Radio.