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Lynda Caspe: A Profile

By Carla Marie Rupp

February 3, 2008

Is she a painter who also sculpts? Or is she a sculptor who also paints and draws? This fiercely independent, artistic, strong Lower Manhattan woman does all of these. And now the public is invited to come take notice.

Downtown artist Lynda Caspe brings her colorful paintings and bronze sculptures to the Office of the Manhattan Borough President, Scott M. Stringer from March 3rd to March 28. The work in this exhibition is a sampling of paintings and sculpture done over the course of Caspe's career.

"For me, it's a big show. This is the biggest show I've ever had. It's my work from different periods of my life. And art has been my life, in addition to raising my son Daniel," says the single mother of one.

Caspe will be exhibiting more than 80 works of her art--paintings, drawings, sculptures and sculptural reliefs--in the Gallery of the Office of the Manhattan Borough President, located at the Municipal Building, 1 Centre St., South Tower, 19th Floor.

The Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 pm. Monday through Friday, and photo ID is required to enter the Municipal Building. Caspe will be present at an opening public reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on March 6th. The RSVP number is 212-669-4448.

"The thing that is unusual about having a solo exhibition here is that Mr. Stringer usually has group shows for non-profits. He has had one-person shows here before, but it still is rare; so I am very honored to be asked to do this," said Caspe, in an interview in her Tribeca loft on Franklin Street.

"The Office of the Borough President was familiar with my work because I had shown there before as part of the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, an artists group that shows in public spaces all over the city. I had been the co-president when we showed at the Borough President's Office. And because of that, I was asked if I wanted to do a solo show when a slot became available."

Caspe's work has also been seen in group shows at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo, Norway; and at the Cooper Hewitt Museum and Synagogue for the Arts Gallery, both in New York. She has had four one-person shows at the Bowery Gallery in Chelsea. Last year she was awarded a Professional Development Grant from PSC-CUNY to help pay for bronze casting of her sculptural reliefs. She has also received other grants, including a Yaddo residence fellowship.

 It's unusual for an artist such as Caspe to be equally talented at sculpture and painting and drawing.

"Some people say I'm a sculptor who paints. I don't know if I'm a sculptor who paints or a painter who sculpts. It's a question I ask myself. I do more painting than sculpture. But I love both. I'm a colorist when it comes to painting. You can't use color in sculpture the same way it is used in painting.

"When I feel the need to express the beauty of the world around me, I paint. Painting is concerned with color. Sculpture is concerned with the three-dimensional forms of objects. It depends on a sense of touch. I love the tactile part. Sculpture and painting call for different talents. And I need to do both."

Caspe's show includes still lifes, interiors, cityscapes and landscapes. The cityscapes are all from Lower Manhattan. The landscapes are mostly from around her farm in Meredith in Delaware County, NY. "I paint on site looking out of windows or on the rooftops. The buildings are different colors and provide an excuse to use different colors. And the depending on the time of day, the light from the sun is a different color also.

"When I do landscapes, it's actually harder than doing cityscapes. In the countryside, green mostly dominates, and you have to really search for the color. You can't have a painting that is totally green. You have to look for the color. In the city, it's given to you; buildings are all different colors. Brick buildings, painted buildings, the color is there already there and only is changed by the color of the sunlight."

Caspe's truly a self-made person. Caspe was born in the Bronx. When she was four years old, her family moved to the Upper West Side. Her mother was a teacher and her father was a chemist. "While attending Julia Richman High School, I took the college board tests a year early so I could get used to taking them. Since I was practicing taking them, I decided to apply to college. I applied to the early entrance program at the University of Chicago. Not only was I accepted, but they gave me a scholarship."

Her scholarship paid for living and schooling the first year. The rest of the time, she had to pay her own living expenses. "I had to work to do that because no one in my family could give me money to go to school. My father lost his job a year before I went to college. When I was at school he would sometimes send me a $10 check and say, 'Don't spend it all in the same place.' My mother would tell me what deserts I should make. I didn't even have the main course! My roommate and I were eating lettuce soup. I thought she was a genius for figuring out how to make something so cheap. We were starving. I used to wonder why my stomach didn't digest itself.  I went down to 75 pounds.

"I wrote poetry and thought I was going to be a poet. So when I entered the University of Chicago, I majored in English Literature. In my third year when I had to choose a minor.  I chose studio art. I was the best in the department.  Everyone told me to change my major but I was so close to graduating I got my degree in English and then thought of getting an M.F.A. in painting."

Caspe chose the University of Iowa. "I didn't have the money for Yale. Iowa was one of the best schools in the country for art. It had a very good reputation. After finishing at Iowa, I floundered for a while. I didn't know what direction to go in. I decided to do some printmaking, engraving and etching. I wrote to Stanley William Hayter at the Atelier 17 in Paris. He was the teacher of Mauricio Lasansky a famed print-maker who I knew from the University of Iowa. I studied with Hayter in Paris for a year. That was great. I drew every day.

"Hayter was famous. He taught Picasso, Miro and Duchamp, lots of people. He didn’t teach me privately; I was part of the group. It was a great place. I spent a lot of time drawing that year and making prints. I used to go to ballet schools and draw the ballet dancers who were rehearsing for a performance.  I drew for hours and hours. In Paris ballet companies will extend privileges like that to people in the other arts. They used to let me sit in the corner of the practice room with my pencils and inks and work.  In New York that kind of camaraderie doesn't happen.

"In Paris, I met painter Marcel Duchamp who was working at Atelier 17 on drawings he did in the past. He was making prints of them. Hayter was very energetic. I'm really glad I met him. But I never became a print maker, however I think everything adds to your development as an artist. Hayter was a very good technician as well as an artist. An artist has to be very good at drawing or he/she would be a lousy printmaker. I drew day and night."

Caspe's other teachers have included painter Esteban Vicente and George Spaventa at the Studio School, 8 W. 8th St., New York. "They taught me discipline. Esteban was a great colorist and helped me perfect my sense of color. I valued his criticism. George Spaventa used to come to my studio after I left the Studio School to criticize my work. I loved them both. 

Today, Caspe lives in a spacious loft on Franklin Street. "This kind of a place isn't affordable anymore. I bought it with a $7,000 C.A.P. S. grant from the State of New York for painting. Since going to college, my life has always revolved around my art--and later my son, who I'm proud to say finished Stuyvesant High School and college."

The life of this female artist didn't just include making art, even though art has been one of her main loves. "I have been a secretary. I waitressed. I was a switchboard operator, a file clerk, a social worker for child welfare, and then I got into teaching. I taught math and English to people receiving welfare so they could get better jobs. Then I got a break. I was hired by Kean College in New Jersey as an adjunct painting and design instructor."

Previously, Caspe taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Alberta. But for years, she could not find a teaching job in the New York area. After Kean College, she taught art at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial art and Parsons School of Art in New York.

She presently is an adjunct associate professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College, a branch of the City University.

"I never thought I was strong when I was younger. But lately I think I am a very strong person. Everything I did, I did mostly myself without much help from others."

Are you ever going to stop doing your art? "Stop doing my art? Never. Why should I? What else am I going to do?"

Lynda Caspe's artwork can be seen at the Borough President's Office through March 28, 2008.

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