Sarah Cain's painting, with grit and spark

Sarah Cain's painting, with grit and spark
Sarah Cain, "Bow Down (detail)," 2015, mixed media (Honor Fraser Gallery)

As a painter, Sarah Cain is a major fangirl. Not the vapid or uninteresting kind, but an incisive, seriously playful and intensely talented obsessive.

She is fixated on putting paint where it belongs, which could be just about anywhere. The 20 results in her second solo show at Honor Fraser Gallery range from splendid to magnificent.


Cain has lavished paint on walls, floor, ceiling, upholstered furniture, wood furniture, dollar bills suspended from monofilament and rectangles of canvas hanging loose or stretched on variously sized frames (conventionally known as paintings). She pairs paint with gold and silver leaf, stereo headphones, beads, a pot holder, necklaces, thread, crystals, dried roses, sea shells, a huge palm frond, a broom, a flower vase, sand, string and glitter.

Loosely feminine connotations have been historically assigned to most of those other objects and materials. Cain cheerfully ups that socially determined ante with her specific choice of furniture: a thrift-shop vanity with a tall mirror, where a viewer is reflected amid various styles of elaborately painted surface, or a modern love seat and Chippendale bedroom dresser that each hosts its own enthusiastic painting.

Loosely masculine connotations, by contrast, have been historically assigned to painting in general and abstract painting in particular. The grittiness and spark in Cain's work comes from the friction between the two, building on similarly aligned Pattern and Decoration predecessors, such as Kim MacConnel and Jessica Stockholder.

Or, perhaps it's more accurate to say that the edgy restlessness comes from forcefully squeezing out established conventions and simply occupying the artistic territory as she sees fit.

After all, the biggest, most energetic abstract painting in the show – almost nine feet of raw canvas flooded with scribbles, swirls and slathered patches of red, orange, yellow and blue acrylic and oil pastel – is titled "For Marc." Tacked to a stretcher bar at the side is tag that identifies Marc Maron, the politically wicked alternative comedian.

No wonder Cain titled her show "Bow Down," with its regal command. Nodding to Beyoncé's controversial pop-feminist anthem of that name greets another realm of fangirl enthusiasm.

"Bow Down" is also the title of the show's architecturally scaled extravaganza, an improvisational painting made on-site and stretching 47 feet – the entire length of one room. Like Cain's show-stealing, site-specific window mural in "Painting in Place," a scruffy 2013 group exhibition, it assembles a host of painterly riffs, shimmies and shakes.

Sprayed, brushed, flung, dribbled, puddled, taped, stained, poured, gestural, geometric, organic and more, with some of it on independent surfaces she attached to the wall, the painting is a virtual lexicon of modern abstraction. (A draped cluster of dried roses even offers a valediction.) Gaily crossing the main wall's defining edges on all four sides, it pushes the mural tradition into three dimensions.

As a final flourish, Cain painted an off-kilter grid of big, dark-gray polka dots over everything. Who knew that seeing spots before your eyes could be so pleasantly invigorating?

Honor Fraser Gallery, 2622 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City, (310) 837-0191, through July 11. Closed Sun. and Mon.