When we visited Marcus Cain’s home on Campbell Street last fall, we were immediately welcomed into a comfortable, stylish kitchen. We were offered a variety of fine cheeses with crackers. The house itself, a muscular, well-kept midtown treasure, has been thoughtfully and thoroughly updated. As Cain brought us up to speed on the house’s history, I began to notice his way of speaking. Beyond simply getting information across, he cared for the rhythm of each phrase. My eyes dotted and bounced from place to place as he described the way the house used to look in this room, or the origin of a certain furnishing from that room. The ease in his tone and countenance were indications that with Cain these subjects weren’t small talk, but expressions of actual joy in noticing the disparate elements of one’s life.
As we eventually made our way upstairs to the studio, I couldn’t help but see the house as a personification. With its two second-level front-side windows serving as eyes, and its porch a mouth agape, the studio was positioned neatly at the forehead—a kind of frontal lobe for Cain’s interior world. It was touching—and even haunting—to see a studio so tightly packed with objects, ephemera, and somehow, large paintings. If I were to simply list each object in that room—where indeed, Cain also makes his work—one would likely conclude that Cain is a hoarder. Likewise, if I were to list each of his daily commitments, or document the meaning he found in each object on view, one might feel exhausted with empathy, judging that it is all too much for one man to own, love, and feel.
But, no. What I’ll always remember about my visit to Marcus Cain’s studio is the time he had to tell me about each little thing. Each is given space, each clearly placed with two-handed care. Down they would come from atop a file cabinet, or a window sill, and onto the conversational stage it would descend for a thoughtfully expressed set of attachments—always seeming to circle back round to the work itself. Not unlike a brain, this was a most strange room where things aren’t simply made, but kept. It seems each object or small collection exists as a connection point between Cain and some distant fragment of the past or meaningful understanding of the present. In the moments that Cain guides us through the secret histories of these objects, the paintings themselves are nearly forgotten. But in fact, their visual potential is surreptitiously being charged for a second viewing, which takes place the moment your eyes re-fix upon them, interrupting all thought.
These dotted paintings that begin to comprise the face of a headless, sleepless consciousness are made one harmless drip at a time, and in the aggregate, they become impossible to absorb as individual strokes. Within their continuity, a fixed, focused gaze rescues each dot from abstraction and gives unity to the visual chaos. Is the subject forming into being? Is it disintegrating? It is all too much, and yet each drop of paint, each object, each memory in that studio remains transfixed in a graceful stasis, as though long ago, it was written.
The work seen in this studio visit was exhibited at the 2012 Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artist Award Exhibition.