Michael and Cappi Insinna resided in New York during the height of the bustling mid-century art scene, representing the city’s turn-of-the-century aesthetic before the boom that was pop-art and abstract expressionism. Elegant, loose, and figurative mark-making characterize this work, as well as the application of a subdued and turbid color palette. A modernist twist on the traditional, these paintings and drawings encapsulate both the boldness of mid-century New York City, and the sophistication of realist painting of 19th and 20th century.
Born Eleanor Cappelletti in 1915 in Cleveland, Ohio, “Cappi” Insinna defied the societal expectations for women during that time by becoming an artist, a vocation that she sought without much support from her family. An East Coast based painter, teacher and illustrator Cappi studied at the Cleveland School of Art and Art Students League in the 1940s and served as the head of the Art Department in the St. Cecilia Catholic School system in New Jersey for eight years. Cappi exhibited widely in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut art scene winning awards for her watercolors across the Tri-State area, New England, and Pennsylvania during the 1960s to 1980s. In 1986, Cappi relocated to New Mexico where she resided and painted every day until her death in 1992. Cappi was married to Lost Art Salon collection artist Michael Insinna.
In 1934, Cappi was awarded a scholarship to attend the renowned Cleveland School of Art in Ohio. She built on her success by winning a subsequent scholarship to study at the Art Students League, an independent art school in New York City, and consequently she moved to New York to continue her formal art training. Here she studied with the portraitist Robert Brackman and became his assistant for all four years she attended at the school. Brackman’s influence on Cappi’s work is present in her interest in the figure and nude female form. However, her brushstrokes are more gestural and looser than Brackman’s lending a more suggestive rather than naturalistic element to her work. Her subject matter also extends beyond the figure to include subtle landscapes and still lives. While at the Art Students League, Cappi also studied with Rafael Soyer and Howard Trafton whose lessons in pattern, design, and color had a lasting impact on her work. After graduating from the Art Students League, Cappi, along with her husband Michael, spent a summer studying at Institute Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
In 1959 Cappi became the head of the Art Department in the St. Cecilia Catholic School system in New Jersey teaching for eight years. Later, after relocating to Westport, Connecticut in 1968, she became the Artist in Residence for three years at the Arts Council in Norwalk, Connecticut.
Whilst living in Westport, Connecticut Cappi began her own teaching practice in her artist studio where she taught both young people and adults during the late 60s and early 70s. She also worked as a freelance illustrator for various book and magazines, including designing commemorative silver medallion series for Wittnauer Mint: Signs of the Zodiac, Mother's Day, among others. A lifelong member of the Art Students League, Cappi worked as a talent scout, for two years beginning in 1969 for the Famous Artists School in Westport, Connecticut, where her husband Michael taught.
Cappi relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico, from Connecticut in 1986. While living there she was very active in the art circuit there and continued to paint every day until her death in 1992. A great source of inspiration for Cappi was what she referred to as the “dramatic skies” of New Mexico, the everchanging colors influencing her plein air landscapes. Along with these landscapes, she painted many figurative pieces drawing from both the Mexican and Native cultures found in New Mexico. Her pieces from this period are marked by their use of color, perhaps a return to the colors and figures that featured prominently in her work during her sabbatical in 1948 at the San Miguel de Allende Art Institute.
Throughout her career Cappi exhibited widely in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut art scene. Her work was awarded first prize in the New Jersey State Watercolor Show and she continued to win awards in Tri-State watercolors shows of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut as well as further afield in New England and Pennsylvania during the 1960s and 70s. During her time in New Mexico, Cappi also showed at number of galleries in Albuquerque, Corrales, and Santa Fe, including Argosy Gallery and Day Star International Gallery.
Born in Passaic, New Jersey in 1912, East Coast painter, teacher, and illustrator Michael Insinna began making art at an early age. He studied at Cooper Union and the Art Students League in New York City during the 1940s and taught art at the Franklin School of Professional Arts, New York City after completing his studies. Michael also worked as an illustrator for the Museum of Natural History in New York creating books for various publishing companies during the 1940's and 1950's. His art teachers and mentors were Robert Brackman (instructor Emeritus and disciple of Robert Henri), Ivan Olinsky and William Zorach. His work was exhibited around New York and New Jersey, including the prestigious Montclair Art Museum, and at the Carnegie International Show in Pittsburg, PA alongside Salvador Dali, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe, and Andrew Wyeth.
In 1945 Michael met Eleanor “Cappi” Cappelletti, a fellow East Coast artist and student at the Art Students League. They would soon marry in New York in 1947. Her work is also featured in the Lost Art Salon collection, which you can view here . He painted throughout his career and in the 1970s his work shifted away from portraiture and realism towards abstraction.
Spurred on by his early passion for painting Michael applied and was accepted to study art at Cooper Union in 1932, a private college in the East Village of New York City. Whilst studying Michael supported his family through a period of economic hardship by working during the day and balancing it with taking classes at night. In 1943, Michael was awarded a scholarship to study at the Art Students League, an independent art school also in New York City. Here, under the tutelage of noted portrait painter Robert Brackman. His studies were interrupted when he was called to join the army in June 1943, serving as a Corporal during the Second World War. At the end of the war, Michael returned to New York City, resuming his studies with Brackman and other influential artists such as Ivan Olinsky, the portraitist, and William Zorach, known for his work as a sculptor. Brackman’s influence on Michael’s work is evident in the quality of light depicted in Michael’s portraiture, which also share a similar naturalism and brushstrokes. However, Michael’s body of work is distinct from his mentor’s in his incorporation of loose and gestural brushwork and noticeably brighter and more vibrant colors.
In 1948 Michael spent a summer studying at the San Miguel de Allende Art Institute with his wife Cappi, whom he met during his time at the Art Students League. This summer would leave an indelible mark on Michael’s work, influencing his choice of colors and figures for the rest of his career. After completing his formal arts education, Michael was offered a teaching position at the Franklin School of Professional Arts in New York City in 1949. During his five years at the Franklin School, he taught life drawing, anatomy, and composition.
In 1954, Michael began working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York from 1953 until 1967 as an illustrator in the department of Paleontology, studying and drawing fossils for museum publications such as the Natural History Magazine, Novitates, the museum’s news journal. During this period, he also worked as a freelance illustrator for various publishing companies illustrating both young adult and adult books. After 14 years at the Museum of Natural History he returned to teaching, joining the staff of the Famous Artists School in Westport, Connecticut in 1967-74.
Throughout his career Michael exhibited his work around New York and New Jersey, including the notable Montclair Art Museum in 1947, 1948, and 1949. He also showed his work at the National Academy of Design in the 123rd Annual Exhibit March 1947 and the Carnegie International Show, Painting in the United States 1949 in Pittsburg PA with the likes of Salvador Dali, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe, and Andrew Wyeth. While Michael’s early work showed a pronounced interest in realism and portraiture, likely due to the influence of his teacher Robert Brackman, then during the 1970s, his work shifted towards abstraction. Michael was an avid collector of art and books and continued painting until his death in 1976 in Westport, Connecticut at the age of 64.