Artists are influenced and find inspiration in many forms. For Jeff ‘Capasso’ Williams, a life spent traveling the world is the primary factor when he touches brush to canvas. Capasso left his small Illinois town and joined the U.S. Navy at just 17. For 24 years he traveled the globe experiencing different military bases, cultures and conflicts.
“I was all over the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa—specifically Rwanda, a lot of Asia, the Philippines, Thailand,” recalls Capasso.
His experience as a naval aircrewman and sensor operator onboard the P-3C Orion aircraft allowed him a view of the world not many get to see. Capasso always loved drawing and sketching even as a young child and joined the Navy because he didn’t think he could carve out a living for himself on painting alone. His travels allowed him vantage points of dense forests and barren deserts, metropolises and quaint villages, all evident in his decades of work. His time in Italy during the Kosovo conflict was especially influential to the lifelong painter.
“In what little time off I had, I went to some remote fishing villages and fell in love with them,” he says.
Capasso toured the country studying the incredible works of art Italy is known for.
Having experienced many war and conflict zones, not all images of his travels were of beauty and light. Painting, however, helped provide an outlet to some of the difficult images that will always stick with him.
“It was somewhat therapeutic in a way, and a way to exercise some demons,” he says.
Capasso was stationed in Hawaii on several occasions and was continually inspired by the natural beauty of the islands. Here he met his wife Leilani and the couple raised five children together. When it was time to finally retire after 24 years, the naval vet, with a master’s degree in aeronautical science, took a two-year sabbatical to focus on his craft; enrolling in the Fine Arts Program at the University of Hawaii.
“I always had the gift, but this helped tremendously about the craft side of things, learning techniques, color patterns, things you really need from a university to help you along the way.”
While many would consider retirement to Hawaii the ultimate dream, it’s North Idaho in which the Williams have found their personal paradise. Capasso was stationed alongside a man from Western Montana and another from near Bonners Ferry. “They would go on and on about how beautiful it was and I was like, ‘Really? Idaho? Isn’t that like Iowa?” he laughs.
With Leilani at his side, they decided to take a trip to see Coeur d’Alene and were blown away. When they went further north to Sandpoint, they agreed, this was the place to finally call home.
While Capasso has painted his fair share of landscapes, he is also inspired by more intimate surroundings in the area. Driving near Clark Fork, he came across a gathering of old non-running trucks. His initial impression eventually led to an entire series of paintings.
“It reminded me about our lives, we start out shiny and new and over the years get kicked in the teeth and have the windows cracked, but even at the end there is a beautiful patina,” he says.
Capasso’s next series will focus on small towns, like Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene, and how so few are left across the country. You can find his works at the Artwork Gallery, and there is a display of his larger pieces at the Cedar Street Bridge Public Market.