The Mesmerizing Secrets of Mundane Objects: Mariel Capanna Overlook at Adams and Ollman

Two paintings sit beside each other on a white gallery wall, on larger and bluer, the other much smaller, a warmer yellow orange.
On the left: Mariel Capanna, Laundry Basket, Fire Escape, Tube Sock, Bra, 2021. Oil and marble dust on panel. 30 x 24 inches. Courtesy of Adams and Ollman. On the right: Mariel Capanna, Spruce Tree, Overalls, Buffalo, Fence, 2021. Oil and wax on panel. 8 x 10 inches. Courtesy of Adams and Ollman.

Playful and mesmerizing compositions of minimally painted forms overlap and play in a tangled mess, in Mariel Capanna’s first solo show, Overlook. Capanna joyfully merges abstraction and representation in each work, where forms on the periphery of recognition float and fall effortlessly. Gallivanting, literally and figuratively, between the relationships of all people, places, and things, Capanna draws us into the meticulous immediacy of her images and installations. Are these compositions a melancholy visual treatise to the uncontrollable and fleeting nature of life’s encounters?

Exhibited in 2021 at Adams and Ollman in Portland, OR, Capanna’s new paintings capture arrangements of shapes and colors in a suspended state of transit. While the trajectories of her compositions seem restless, Capanna doesn’t set out to alleviate or dissipate this tension. Instead, her work draws her viewers in close to identify discrete objects. And yet, the more my eyes travel each canvas, the more I feel lost lost in the din of this visual information. The exhibition title, Overlook—with its triple-meaning as a verb, noun, and name of a neighborhood in the city that these paintings were shown—seems to pose the question: How likely are we as viewers to overlook objects expertly embedded in Capanna’s paintings?

All a soft mush of green and green-yellow, lines and near shapes hover midair, or perhaps float in some pond.
Mariel Capanna, Awning, Tuba, Flowers, Wheels, 2021. Oil and marble dust on panel. 20 X 16 inches. Courtesy of Adams and Ollman.

Her titles gesture toward this possibility of overlooking, as each is straightforward and reserved, generating an impulse within the viewer to search throughout the jubilant and energetic compositions for these specific objects. A curious group of animals, kitchen items, clothes, and musical instruments populate the titles of the paintings such as Awning, Tuba, Flowers, Wheels (2021) and Spruce Tree, Overalls, Buffalo, Fence (2021). In Capanna’s work, there is a strong sense that she wants to obfuscate the objects outlined in the titles, as if to coax her audience into a gallery-show-turned-scavenger-hunt.

Trombone, Camera, Seagull, Mug (2021) stands out among the collection, because it incorporates the view one would see from a camera, rather than a depiction of the camera itself. The rectangular area in the right side of the painting encapsulates a range of dusky hues, a pile of broken chairs and red brake lights in the distance. A mug cheekily rests just atop the dark blue and brown area, as one of the more easily visible objects from the title. 

Objects are arranged around, behind and in front of a large reflective block, void-like, ominous.
Mariel Capanna, Trombone, Camera, Seagull, Mug, 2021. Oil and wax on panel. 16 x 20 inches. Courtesy of Adams and Ollman.

Through Capanna’s viewfinder, she challenges the assumption that objects are inert entities. Objects are not just commodities, but rather dynamic vessels through which we shape our lives, or tools for discovering life’s contours. The ontological possibilities put forth in Trombone, Camera, Seagull, Mug (2021) enrich our ability to approach object accumulations, environments, and our belongings with a renewed sense of wonder.

Just beyond a foggy, mirror reflection objects float, a kitchen sink also rests at the bottom of the frame
Mariel Capanna, Cigarette, Roses, String, Swan (2021). Oil and marble dust on panel. 30 x 40 inches. Courtesy of Adams and Ollman.

At the same time that wonder washes over me, a mystical feeling of mirage emanates from Capanna’s work. The original Latin word for mirage, mirari, translates “to look at, to wonder at.” Cigarette, Roses, String, Swan (2021) simultaneously depicts the expansive quality of the mirages Capanna engages with in her day-to-day life and challenges our notion of what is and isn’t considered mirage. By her definition, mirage feels like another kind of fascination. 

Capanna’s techniques raise questions about the rapid rate at which we consume images, such as: What impact does this have on our relationships with the things that inhabit our familiar spaces? How can we slow down and create more space for mystery? How can we become more delicate in our consideration of the present? And how might that delicacy urge us to cultivate gentler ways of discovering meaning, as opposed to our culture’s otherwise reflexive rush to know? 

In Overlook, Capanna shows us that the possibilities these new paintings present aren’t answers to these questions, but rather signals that there is always something just outside of the frame.


Mariel Capanna: Overlook
Adamsn and Ollman, Portland, OR
February 12–March 13, 2021


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Author: Eel Probably

Eel is an anti-disciplinary artist caught between dreaming, thinking, and researching, and is a recent graduate of Pacific Northwest College of Art. They live in so-called Portland, OR on the land of the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde.