The brightly colored works in Sarah Cain’s subtly sizzling exhibition at the gallery Honor Fraser make two things clear: The L.A. artist knows when enough is enough — and when it’s time to let ’er rip.
Made up of 14 mixed-media paintings on canvas (most large), four collages (each the size of a dollar bill), one stained glass window (installed in a skylight) and a gestural abstraction (painted on the gallery floor and covering more than 1,000 square feet), the show titled “The Sun Will Not Wait” strikes just the right balance between restraint and abandon.
Decisiveness is Cain’s strong suit.
In composition and in color, each of her paintings is rock solid. Shapes interlock architecturally. Lines fortify boundaries. Structurally, nothing is slipshod. Formal rigor, even toughness, is what her abstractions are built of — from the ground up and then some.
But goofiness — and girliness — enter the picture, disrupting the muscularity of Cain’s compositions. The silliness comes in the form of trinkets and mementos that the 39-year-old artist has glued to the surfaces of her works: beaded bracelets, chain-link necklaces, plastic prisms, fluffy pompoms, pretty seashells, even cat whiskers, as well as a hula hoop, a dozen coat hangers, a locket and a smattering of snapshots.
Cain has even dressed a torso-sized canvas in a lacy blouse, spray-painting both in a radiant pattern. A small shaped canvas wears a necklace, doubling down on the idea that art — especially abstraction — has a lot in common with getting dressed up.
Sometimes, Cain covers the three-dimensional objects with a thick coat of paint, turning seashells into odd little bumps and pompoms into bigger ones. She uses some items to do the work of a pencil, “drawing” lines around various shapes to define their edges crisply and distinctly. At others, she treats the added objects as painterly flourishes, tonal highlights, ad hoc frames, theatrical curtains or articles of clothing, particularly those that allow some skin to peek through, often sexily.
All of Cain’s add-ons work optically — as formal elements in visual compositions. At the same time, they never let you forget their identities: common objects that we might have on our dressers or desks.
With whiplash efficiency, Cain’s paintings reveal that art works best when it keeps you guessing, never settling into a single type, a unified style or a set of moves that are predictable, familiar, reassuring. Making a virtue of instability, her paintings eat their cake and have it to. Best of all, they invite viewers to do something similar — to see extraordinary beauty in ordinary stuff.
Honor Fraser, 2622 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Through March 9; closed Sundays and Mondays. (310) 837-0191, www.honorfraser.com