GREATEST: COCO CAPITÁN
The Spanish artist navigating escapism, identity and belonging through creative experience.
Coco Capitán’s work traverses the worlds of fashion, art and photography. In 2012, she began exploring her lifelong connection to the sea through Naïvy, a project she has tirelessly expanded upon over the past decade through a variety of mediums—from paintings and large-scale photographs to artist-embellished found objects. Under the framework of the sailor and the sea, Capitán navigates powerful themes of escapism, solitude, freedom, queerness, identity and belonging.
Her obsession with the ocean and the visual pull of the sailor uniform has been the subject of many exhibitions worldwide, including in a presentation at Parco Museum Tokyo in 2022, at the Huis Marseille Museum for Photography in Amsterdam in 2021 and her 2020 debut solo show at Maximillian William in London. Echoing the artist’s belief that she is never done exploring a theme, GREATEST invites Capitán to utilize these pages as a continuation of Naïvy, presenting new portraits alongside existing pieces from her ever-evolving body of work.
Within her wider Naïvy project, Capitán’s “Lost Sailor” series features portraits of people that she feels drawn to—not just because of the way they look, but for their ability to capture the epitome of her personal sensibilities as an artist, which are often centered around a search for belonging. Through her lost sailors, Capitán is able to relay her own intimate memories and emotions and translate them on a universal level.
In this story, the artist invites a new protagonist, Kelly McCormack, a rising actor and screenwriter from Canada, to step into the role of the lost sailor. Capitán first discovered McCormack when she saw
A League of Their Own, a TV series in which the actor plays a taciturn queer baseball player traveling across America during the latter years of WWII. She was intrigued by McCormack’s aura and struck up a conversation with her on Instagram, later inviting the actor to London to pose for her in a series of portraits published—for the first time—here in the pages of GREATEST.
Collective experiences that relate to themes of self-worth and the paradoxes of being a woman come into play; experiences unequivocally dissected not only by Capitán’s practice, but in the following exchange between the two, spanning their childhoods, creative processes and what the world would be like if women had more power.
CC: I feel like you’re the friend that I wanted to have when I was growing up.
KM: It’s true. I felt like it was kismet that you reached out to me. I had just worked on a TV show that you had watched, and you reached out to me and were like, “I liked the show.” Then I saw your work and was completely struck by it, because there are certain wavelengths you have been on with Naïvy that I feel have very deep connections to my own work. A week later, you were like, “Hey, will you come to London?”
Both of our phones are sitting here recording this interview and they’re both navy. It’s actually the most profound color in my life. It feels like it’s the color of my brain.
I’ve always been drawn to navy too. I remember taking my first picture in a photo booth; I was six years old and it was a picture for school. It was my first experience of a self-portrait, and when I chose my clothes, I chose navy.
When we were shooting, I was thinking of myself as a lost sailor and what his experience would be having his photo taken. Maybe this is a man who doesn’t have his photo taken very often and the longer shutter exposure is more stressful for him because he has to hold that position longer. As soon as someone takes your photo, you have this moment when you think, “Well, who am I?”
I get really excited about inventing characters and bringing them out of the darkness. It’s only when everything is done, when I’m watching myself and editing myself that I can start seeing how my own subconscious, my own personal life and my childhood, has come up onto the screen. The amount of times I’ve been in the edit for my films and realized that I’ve revealed something about my personal life …
That’s very different from [my work] because everything I’m making is directly about myself. How has your childhood shaped who you are as an adult and who you are as an artist?
Even if I actively tried to keep my childhood from my work, it would barrel into it no matter what. The further I push myself to play characters and write characters and invent scenarios that are far, far, far away from my childhood, the more I can’t help but return to the themes, the wants and the heartbreaks of where I came from.
What is this story, do you think?
It’s kind of a repositioning of motherhood and women; the grotesque, obliterating, violent and glorious power of women. This sounds like a terrible thing to say as a filmmaker, but I don’t get inspired by individual people. I’m very moved and shattered by generations and movements.
One of the moments I really enjoyed in the film that you wrote, Sugar Daddy [about a woman who gets paid to go on dates with men to fund her musical career], is when Darren, the main character, has to explain how she is making so much money, and there’s a big confrontation with her friends. She’s trying to say, “Well, this is the world we live in.” We don’t think about that enough. We still live in a world ruled by men, and I think the world would be a really different place if women had more power.
My thesis for that film was, “Everything is Sugar Daddy.” You don’t have to go on a date with a guy to know the experience that if a guy buys you dinner or a drink or helps you with your career, there is this gendered expectation that you owe them something in return. Though I will say, working with you yesterday was so nice. You don’t often get to work with such visionary women who have the utmost respect for the men that are working for them. Seeing the two men who were your assistants yesterday just revere you and genuinely respect you. You were nice and kind and collaborative, but you have the last word. It pisses me off that that is such a rare experience.
Our industry is really fucked up. I once had an experience where one of my former male assistants said, “Don’t worry, just focus on the creative stuff. Let us do the difficult part.” It’s this sort of thing that you encounter so often but that you never know how to react in the moment that it happens. I only realized how disrespectful this comment was when I was playing it back in my head. Are you trying to say that, because I’m a woman, I don’t know how to measure light or I don’t know how a camera works?
The pain is not necessarily always the comment but the shame in not saying anything at the time […] In my early 20s, I only cared about male voices; male professors, artists and actors.
Interesting. It was the same thing for me.
I had this complete wake-up call, where I realized that I had sort of buried and disrespected my understanding of my own mother because of this, and that I was seeking approval from men and trying to make them see me as their equal. In doing so, I had mutilated the power of the mother. So Sugar Daddy in general, and all my work, in all ways and in every medium, is about pulling the mother out of the muck, the resurrection of the mother.
The older we grow, the more we realize that we have that power as women and we don’t need to be these guys to get there. Many people talk about their childhood as this idyllic moment. I don’t really talk much about this in Spanish, because I think it will make my mother unhappy, but it’s hard for me to count the moments in which I remember myself being truly happy or truly comfortable as a child. I think most of my art comes from this search for stability; of being heard and being seen. I left home and I looked for my own independence when I was 17.
Is that where the lost sailor comes in?
For me, the sailor is about fantasy, but it’s also about the need for community. As a child, I was really inspired by this idea. I joined the Boy Scouts and I wanted to explore, and I wanted to be part of a community. I loved the fact that we wore a uniform, because it made me feel that I belonged somewhere and I was part of something.
With your art and your life, which I’m assuming are the same thing, what is the hardest lesson you learned recently?
Learning to let go of control.
Do you mean control of production situations or creative control?
I don’t mean creative control. More in regards to my personal life, which is my main inspiration. As you say, my life and my work are pretty much the same thing. I’m learning that all I can do is experience something and then translate that into my art, whether it is a nice experience or a painful one.
It’s a very performance-based kind of rationale.
That’s one of the things I admire about actors. I just don’t enjoy the idea of being watched or observed, which is funny because art is kind of a recording of a feeling or a thought.
I hear so many artists who say something like, “I don’t want attention, but I have an extreme need to express myself. And expressing myself in some way, involves other people.” I wish there was a word for an artist’s primal need to get something out of their body.
For me, that is the pure definition of art. You just have something within you that you need to get out to the world. I’m looking for someone to be able to connect to my own feelings, because somehow that’s what it means to be alive. What is your creative process?
It’s always about a very weird detail. If I’m hired to play a character or if I feel struck by a story that I need to write, it’s always an accent or a way someone wears their clothes. It will be something—a song, a word, even one sentence in a script—that becomes a window that I can throw myself into. Once I’m triggered by one tiny detail, it becomes an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole kind of thing.
No day of art-making is similar to the next. I spend a lot of time thinking about things, to the point of feeling these ideas in my head are as present as the people around me. And then something will happen where I’ll just sort of, out of frustration for wanting to get it out of me, feeling like I’m going to die if I don’t, just sit down and strap myself to the desk and write. I do so in such a dead heat, in such a terror that it’s kind of scary to be around. I’ve had a few people who are close to me be like, “Yeah, you’re pretty unrecognizable when you’re in that state.” So I think my creative process is quite volatile. What is your process?
I’m always collecting bits of information here and there. I’m the same as you, I cannot separate work from life. A lot of the time, I use my art as therapy. If I’m going through a painful moment, I need to create a fantasy within my work and put it all there. In terms of process, it’s really important for me to write. All of my work begins in my notebooks; I’ve been carrying around these diaries [for years]. They are the beginning of everything and then it grows into whatever it needs to be, like a photograph or a painting. My writing actually became kind of popular with people, but I didn’t begin doing it with an intent for it to become art; it was just my thought process.
What do you like about sailors?
I don’t know. I mean, I’ll be honest—I guess the people who inspire me the most to photograph are somehow similar to each other. There is not a set of rules [for how they look], it’s just a feeling. And I feel that I’m always looking for this one person. When I was taking pictures of you, in a way, I was with someone else. I think all of my lost sailors, all of the people I have chosen to play these fantasies or these roles, are always people who [also engage with the character] from their side.
I’m lucky because it’s part of my job that I get to explore personas. But I also think the average person has multiple personas at their disposal. Every time you open your closet you’re like, “Who am I tonight?” When I travel, I always ask myself, “Who will I be in this new place?” What’s nice is you’ve created such a strong place, an alternative universe for people to dip into. Being on set with you, I don’t feel like myself being photographed in a way; I am enjoying the feeling of being a disturbed lost sailor who’s troubled by the idea of having their photograph taken. And putting on that uniform is no small thing. I’m so affected by costume.
What I really want is to be the strong sailor who is there against the wind and nothing goes against him. But the reality is that I’m a person full of vulnerabilities. Perhaps the way of growing is to realize that these vulnerabilities are actually my strengths; I guess I’m really trying to connect with my vulnerable side and make that a part of who I am.
Well, that’s the magic of the feminine aptitude for vulnerability and for creation. And maybe that’s why you made it a lost sailor as opposed to a strong sailor. Last question: If you got a new boat, what would you name it?
Lacrimosa; so dramatic. Like Mozart.
I would name my boat Floyder after my dog who just passed away. He was my everything. And I think Floyder sounds like a boat, though it maybe sounds a little bit like a dinghy. The boats I grew up around were dirty metal fishing boats with crab traps stretching on them.
I love that. I didn’t grow up with boats. I just admire them. In Spanish, we don’t really describe them in the feminine form but I love the fact that in English, a boat is a woman. I think that’s so beautiful.