John Philip Capello

Mystery artist who carved faces into rocks on the shoreline at Brighton Beach

John Philip Capello
Interview Date:
October 21, 2022


John Philip Capello is a painter and sculptor who grew up in Bensonhurst in the 1940s and '50s and now lives in Sag Harbor. This oral history is the culmination of the interviewer's 12 year search for the mystery artist who carved faces into rocks on the shoreline at Brighton Beach.

"In 2010, I saw a photo of one of these carved faces on Twitter, but I didn't know where it was on the Coney Island peninsula," says Tricia Vita. "So I asked my friend, photographer Bruce Handy, if he could find them. He spent the whole summer looking and at the end of the summer he actually found them in Brighton." The stone carvings have remained out of the public eye because they're visible only at low tide and after a storm. It wasn't until 2022 that the interviewer was able to confirm the identity of the artist and record this oral history. 

In his oral history, Capello describes carving the rocks in Brighton Beach around 1975 with his brother Luciano, who worked as a church restorer, and one or two friends. "We looked into the stones and saw what we wanted to see," he says.  "A nose, an eye socket, a place to put a mouth or chin, you know that's already there, but just take away the stone that didn't belong."

In this 2017 slide talk at the Parrish Art Museum, John Philip Capello shows and talks about his paintings and sculptures: