STEUBEN — Abstract Expressionist painter Richard Kapral inhabits a storybook cottage — albeit one with a chandelier dripping with crystals.
A narrow courtyard, buffering his house from the road, is filled with hostas. The lushly leafed shade plant is Kapral’s favorite perennial. He particularly likes a variety called “Sum and Substance.”
Asiatic lilies, phlox and Mexican heather are among the succession of blooms throughout the growing season. You’ll also find ferns, tansy and bugbane. The latter has tall, flowering spires of blossoms whose smell repels insects.
A riotous mix of wild geranium, loosestrife, Solomon’s seal, butterbur, iris and peonies heightens the feeling of being secreted away.
Urns, benches, a door, doorframe and sculpture provide structure.
“I even painted the house dark green to give it that 1920s-’30s look,” said the 86-year-old painter.
Raven, a black Labrador who is a rescue from Arkansas, greets guests. Nearby is Annie, a beagle, another rescue.
Entering Kapral’s home, visitors pass through rooms full of paintings. The entire house is a gallery in essence. Some of the oils dwarf the artist himself.
On Sept. 12, the 86-year-old artist’s work will be featured at Deighan Wealth Advisors in Bangor at 455 Harlow St.
“To be able to create is a wonderful thing,” he reflects. “And the older I get, the more I appreciate it.”
Kapral has been painting for 75 years.
He started at age 11 with a box of oil paints and brushes his parents gave him for Christmas.
“I still have the box,” he said. “I would never part with it.”
“That got me started with the oil paints and I haven’t stopped yet,” Kapral said. “I paint pretty much every day, and all winter. Summer is for company and the garden. The winter to me is the best time.”
Kapral was born outside of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., in the town of Luzerne, which is located in the coal mining region. But, he grew up in New Jersey.
“My parents moved to New Jersey during World War II for the sake of work,” he said. “My dad was a cabinet maker.”
Kapral made his own living as an antiques dealer, first in New Jersey as owner of Railroad Crossing Antiques. Moving to Maine 20 years ago, he continued to specialize in antiquities, opening the River “Bank” Gallery in Cherryfield.
Through the years, painting has been a constant. His work has been widely featured in galleries in southern New England and eastern Maine.
“I’m not a scenic painter,” he said. “I have painted seascapes but I’m mainly abstract and expressionist.”
“In Jersey, everybody wanted sand dunes and seagulls. I’m just not geared that way.”
What makes good art?
“It has to have soul,” Kapral said. “I don’t think there’s a formula. It comes from within.” “But generally there’s a certain feeling,” one gets when looking at good art.
Kapral loathes titling his work.
“When you listen to music do you ask that? You just listen,” he notes. “It’s beautiful music.”
“In my painting, I like to silence myself in obedience to the commands of color. Subject matter does not matter. Titles are incidental. I paint layer after layer of glaze and color, forming a balance of line, form and color,” he continued.
“I ask people when viewing to hold the moment, experience the layers, leave your prejudice and learned perceptions behind…”
Kapral is disappointed in New York’s current art scene, which he said often features “installations” and “digital work and almost no paintings.”
“I believe in painting,” he said.
Kapral urges younger painters to persevere.
“You can’t let them get you down. You’ve got to do what your heart tells you to do,” he concluded. “Artists know when they’ve done something good. It’s a reward for creating something wonderful.”