Matthew Capaldo blends the familiar with the disturbing in OMA exhibit

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Matthew Capaldo’s “carol (after preminger)” is an 11-by-14-inch oil on canvas. Based on a scene from the 1964 film “Bunny Lake Is Missing,” Capaldo painted the work in 2016.

Society matrons gossip over cocktails. A woman stares, spellbound by a cigarette lighter's flame. Perched in a tree, surrounded by pink blossoms, a young man contemplates an egg.

These are scenes in "Familiar Mysteries: Paintings by Matthew Capaldo," on view at the Orlando Museum of Art through Nov. 27. "He likes how he can tell stories through paintings," explains museum director Glen Gentele.


And indeed, Capaldo's oils on canvas ask viewers to create narratives in their imaginations. In one painting, a woman prepares a syringe, as stuffed children's toys creepily seem to watch her. What could it mean? I don't know but it sent a shiver down my spine.

Here are five things I learned while viewing the exhibit.


1. Curator Hansen Mulford explains the exhibition title, "Familiar Mysteries," this way: "His paintings depict scenes in which individuals or groups are engaged in situations that appear both mysterious and strangely familiar." I was particularly struck by "wallflower," in which a man stands awkwardly some distance from two men engaged in conversation. Has he been excluded? Is he eavesdropping? Are the men talking about him? Gentele describes the unsettling sensation like this: "There's a moment of vulnerability exposed in his paintings."

2. The exhibition is the second in the museum's Encounter Series, launched in the spring. The series spotlights artists who have made a notable contribution to the cultural life of Central Florida. Though he works in Provincetown, Mass., Capaldo also spends time in Orlando and is collected by many Central Floridians.

3. There's a deliberate reason Capaldo works on a relatively small scale — many of his paintings are 8 by 10 inches, or 11 by 14 inches. "His rationale is he wants to draw you into them," says Gentele.

4. Capaldo sometimes uses film and television as a starting point for his work. The startled-looking woman in "carol (after preminger)" is based on a scene from the 1964 thriller "Bunny Lake Is Missing."

5. The museum has acquired one of the show's paintings for its permanent collection. "Wild west hero (repose)" depicts a young man admiring red-breasted birds against a winter landscape. The painting is an example of how Capaldo uses animals symbolically in his work. The wild birds underscore the independent spirit of the human figure.

"Familiar Mysteries: Paintings by Matthew Capaldo" runs through Nov. 27 at Orlando Museum of Art, 2416 N. Mills Ave., Orlando. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Admission: $15; $8 seniors; $5 students. 407-896-4231 or