Artist with autism brings bright colors to Pinellas County

He takes everyday objects, photos of people, and paints them into extraordinary, colorful creations. 

Dane Capo is an artist who recently moved from California to Pinellas County. He also has autism and epilepsy. But when he picks up a paintbrush and palette, his mind is at peace and his creativity is unleashed. 

Each brush stroke takes his canvases from blank to brilliant. For example, he recently created a vivid papaya.

"That's one thing we would grow in Hawaii," Capo reminisces, as he mixes paint together. "I'm looking to, one day, own farmland there."

Young Dane Capo (Photo provided by family)

Watching Dane Capo create his art is as enjoyable as seeing the final masterpiece. 

He paints portraits of musicians like John Lennon, celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, and presidents like Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln. 

"He was a good president," Dane says as he scans his Lincoln canvas.

Dane grew up in Hermosa Beach, California. He was diagnosed with epilepsy at 10 months old, then, autism at age 5. Attending regular school was a struggle. 

"We continued to be told that he wasn't going to read and he wasn't going to do math and I was just going to have to accept that," said his mother, Krista Capo.
So, his parents opted for homeschooling with tutors who unlocked the genius in him.

"We got to start celebrating his differences. We got to start celebrating the way that he did math," Krista said. "He's brilliant at math. He just gets there backwards."

When Dane's grandmother, also an artist, passed away, he was inspired to study art history. Then, something incredible happened.

At age 16, he picked up a paintbrush for the first time and created a portrait of artist Henri Matisse. Looking at the finished piece, you would think it was done by someone with extensive training or years of experience. Even his mother was in disbelief at her son's natural gift.

"I didn't believe he painted it," Krista said, recalling her conversation with Dane's teacher. "She's like, ‘No, he did.’ And I'm like, ‘Whoa. Whoa. Now what?’" 

Well, he kept painting. Art has opened the door to speaking engagements, pieces sold for thousands of dollars, even celebrity meetings.

"I got to meet one of the Beatles," Dane said, looking at his photo next to none other than Ringo Starr.

"He was so genuine," Krista said. "We spent so much time with him and he talked about his art with Dane and the paints he uses and he does vegetable stuff and he was so personable."

Despite success in the art world, Dane wants, more than anything, to hold a regular, full-time job. For now, when he holds a paintbrush. He is his own boss. 

"Oranges and blues and greens and reds and yellows and purples and pinks," Dane said while going over some of his favorite colors of paint.

Last year, it came time for change. His family was looking for a home safer and smaller than Los Angeles, closer to family, where Dane could grow his art business.

That place is Pinellas County. He now has a gallery on Walsingham Road in Largo. 

"Since we've been here, he's more focused on his art. He's calmer. He's actually working on getting his GED," Krista said.

Dane's mother hopes his story gives hope to parents of kids with autism and encourages them to find their child's special gift.

"What would happen if we didn't find it?" Krista wondered.

"I want to cry," Krista said, thinking about his artwork. "I mean, I do, every time I sit there and I don't understand it. It's not something that I can explain."

The wheels in Dane's creative mind never stop turning.

"I've never been to Greece, never been to England, never been to France but I want to go," he said, gently scraping his paintbrush across his canvas.
Following a dark year painted in shades of grey, his art delivers much-needed light, color, and beauty.

When anyone looks at his paintings, what does Dane hope they feel?

"That they would feel happy about it," Dane replied.

In addition to selling paintings from his gallery and taking requests for original pieces of art, Dane will soon offer appointments for anyone who'd like to sit and watch him paint.

His family also hopes to start a nonprofit that would give grants to other families with kids who have autism, specifically, to help them discover their talents and thrive. 

To learn more about Dane Capo's work, you can visit his website.