Sarah Cain studio visit (finally)

Sarah Cain, studio shot

Sarah Cain, studio shot

For Sarah Cain to make a painting architecture is important. Often in the past several years – for example in her 2008 California Bienniel exhibition “Midnight Mission,” at 533 in downtown Los Angeles, or her 2010 solo project “California Does Psychic,” done in collaboration with Shamim Momin of L.A.N.D., Miki Garcia of the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum and gallerist Sara Meltzer in New York – Cain has responded directly to the exhibition space and the physical and social landmarks of the surrounding neighborhood. Cain locates additional opportunities for creative inspiration in the physical presence and the structure of the painting itself.

Sarah Cain, "Santa Barbara 1," 2011. 132" x 92" x 4." Acrylic and silver leaf on wall, canvas, stretchers.

Sarah Cain, "Santa Barbara 1," 2011. 132" x 92" x 4." Acrylic and silver leaf on wall, canvas, stretchers.

Sarah Cain, "Santa Barbara 1," detail

Sarah Cain, "Santa Barbara 1," detail

In the images above you can see a truly dorky piece of wood-crafting that Cain “felt like it demanded to be exposed in the painting.” She continued, “Often I will look for, or my attention will be drawn to oddities in the structure of a stretched canvas. When I first saw this canvas (for Santa Barbara 1) and checked out the back it looked so much as though somebody who lacked a saw made the stretcher using only lengths of wood they had at hand.” In this instance her decision to slice through the canvas was led by her desire to reveal this awkward joinery and the stretcher continued to be a part of the conversation Cain had with the painting.

That “Santa Barabara 1” is expansive in nature and includes the surrounding wall makes me think that Cain is acknowledging her own history of making ephemeral paintings done in situ: paintings which incorporated the walls, ceilings and floors of an exhibition space; and also perhaps signaling a move to making work that, while respecting and making use of the surrounding space, can be self supporting and even might take those references and history with it when the work is exhibited elsewhere.

Sarah Cain, "Santa Barbara 2," 2011. 96" x 81" x 12." Acrylic and gold leaf on wall, canvas, stretchers

Sarah Cain, "Santa Barbara 2," 2011. 96" x 81" x 12." Acrylic and gold leaf on wall, canvas, stretchers

I offer you what I hope will be a helpful quote from Steve Roden, from his essay Proximities, Chinati Foundation Artist in Residence Newsletter 15, 2010,” (click, select ‘2010’ and scroll way the hell down to page 92):

I became interested in the idea that an artwork could be deemed site-dependent if its making was determined through conversations with a site and its various characteristics — form, size, history, and other conditions specific to it. Even though the work may eventually leave the site, and could potentially be exhibited (or sited) anywhere, it would always remain an artifact of its own experience of being made through a specific relationship to the space it was made in. This has nothing to do with depicting a site (which would essentially be what most would consider landscape painting), but everything to do with a specific kind of engagement between artist,  object, and site. It is not about how something is seen publicly; it is about the private conversation through which it was made.

Roden was writing here of his own struggle to expand our language for artwork that is related to a particular site. The Proximities essay reveals his thinking and his work resulting from that residency did much to illustrate the rightness of his thinking. I do believe that study of this text and Roden’s work will offer artists some relief as they, too, struggle with the intractability of site and the deeply personal nature of the relationships between artist and and artwork and artist and place.

(Perhaps it is time to use site not as a strategy for distanciation from an artist’s emotional center but rather to acknowledge that site can be a connection to, and a reflection of the core of an artist’s practice and even, I would suggest, an artist’s soul.)

There it is. I’ll say it, “Art has a soul.”

Yup, belief is my modus operandi when I walk into a studio.

In the context of work that I saw in Sarah Cain’s studio I think that both “Santa Barbara 1” and “Santa Barbara 2” give us much to think about, and to look at, with site in mind.

Another ‘site’ that Cain has kept in mind during the making of these paintings for her Bloom Project at the CAF is the city of Santa Barbara itself: both paintings contain visual cues and shorthand references to the surrounding geographies of the Contemporary Arts Forum and social landmarks of the city; and in an odd, sweet and good-natured gesture Cain may be able to introduce her own physical presence into that shopping mall milieu by presenting a self portrait, “French Braid,” in a glass enclosed sign case outside the museum space, such as is typically used for posters and announcements.

As a way to introduce the possibility of an ‘originating site’ to the several influences we’ve found in Cain’s practice I’ll quote again, this from our studio visit:

When I began (a painting not pictured her and not titled at the time of our visit) the canvas was frayed and long threads hung down from the top of the canvas in a half round. This convenient catenary gave me a sun shape that I painted into a Santa Barbara landscape with mountains, ocean and rasta colors in rays emanating from that sun. Of course I flipped the canvas upside-down and backwards because, well I don’t want to paint landscapes – but then I struggled. The catenary, now depending from the bottom, was very alluring and so much of the structure was beautiful that I wasn’t confident of my next action.

Cain’s years of experience making work on site and with short deadlines made her comfortable with making risky moves trusting her intuition.

I cut the canvas where intuitively I suspected that rasta sun to be and felt a great release. It worked! This intervention allowed me to continue painting, now on the back of the canvas. During this time I received a phone call from a friend – a woman I hadn’t seen or talked with in fifteen years and with whom I had shared my early  intellectual and creative curiosity. Talking with her I was filled with emotional memory and body memory of the physical space of my childhood home, of a staircase around which the living areas were organized. I was certain, in that moment, that those feelings were what I had been exploring and working from in much of my art making. Upon learning that my friend was now pursuing her Phd. in molecular biology I cheerfully cut a second circle into my canvas – this one representing my (limited) understanding of what molecular biology might look like!

I hope I see you in Santa Barbara my friends – it sounds like Sarah is putting on a great show.

Sarah Cain, “Santa Barbara.” Bloom Projects at Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum. Opening reception Saturday, March 5, 7 to 9 pm, exhibition continues through May 1.

Sarah Cain, "French Braid," 2011

Sarah Cain, "French Braid," 2011

Sarah Cain, "Santa Barbara 2," detail

Sarah Cain, "Santa Barbara 2," detail

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