It’s not often that a set of dental tools inspires a career other than dentistry, but for Fer Caggiano, it was one of the many catalysts that sparked her passion for art. As a child, she used her grandfather’s old dental tools to sculpt designs in pieces of chalk. She left them for her teachers to find—a small but rebellious move, she thought. The teachers were always delighted. She had an urge to sketch, paint and create and did so in every way that she could.
Though life has led her to the far corners of the globe, Caggiano, a native of São Paulo, Brazil, now calls Charleston home. She sketches and paints in her private Mount Pleasant studio, and she exhibits at the Lowcountry Artists Gallery in Charleston, where she is a co-owner. “Art is my calling. When I have moved away from it, life has always pointed me back to it,” she says. “For me, art is a window to the soul. When I paint a piece for someone, I ask, ‘What is paradise for you?’ Then I transport their minds to that place. When I am inspired to paint, my work becomes a window for others to peer into my own soul.”
Caggiano has always embodied the “artist’s spirit,” but her experiences shaped the artist she has become. In Brazil, she studied advertising because a career as an artist didn’t seem feasible. (According to Caggiano, Brazilian culture doesn’t value art in the way some other countries do.) She relocated with her then-husband to New York and London but, not having a work visa, filled her time doing what she loved. “I studied for three years at the Art Students League in New York, I volunteered at the Museum of Modern Art, I spent time in the pottery shop. In London, I immersed myself in the studio and developed on my own,” she recalls.
She won awards and showcased her work in well-known galleries, but life again pushed Caggiano in a new direction when she divorced and returned to Brazil. In search of peace and spirituality, she spent two years in meditation school and two years as a resident artist at Odsal Ling Tibetan Buddhist temple in Brazil, where she lived and painted the temple and murals. When she became a single mom, Caggiano moved to the heart of São Paulo, and the demand for her murals took off. Brazilians, she added, may not highly value art, but they do value decoration.
On a trip to the United States, Caggiano reconnected with an old friend, Jason Bausano, who was living in Charleston. A spark ignited between them, they married and by early 2017 she had settled in Charleston, a place that truly values and appreciates her talents. Since then Caggiano has thrived. When her work earned second place at the Mount Pleasant ArtFest, judge Robert Lange commented on its vibrancy and “van Gogh-like quality.” Two other pieces were selected for display at Mount Pleasant Town Hall.
Caggiano’s paintings run the gamut, from portraits to still lifes to landscapes. Her oil paintings are bold, colorful and textural, while her watercolors are softer and soothing. Her most provocative paintings have a voice all their own—harkening to her rebellious days carving chalk at school. “When I started painting,” she explains, “my art was about ‘the voice.’ But after I lived at the Buddhist temple, I loved using art to bring people joy and lift their spirits. So, there are two segments of my work— questioning and soothing—and I find happiness in both.”
Anne Shuler Toole is a freelance writer in Mount Pleasant and owner of Be Present Marketing.