Sarah Cain is a Los Angeles-based artist known for her abstract paintings and installations. Incorporating diverse materials such as fabric, sand, feathers, jewellery, crystals and ribbons, the bold graphic patterns and dynamic shapes in her work often resemble urban graffiti or the flashy textiles of a bygone era, while their neon-sunny, candy-like palettes conjure comparisons to her adopted California home.
To Cain, space is both physical and psychic; her practice is characterised by her moving beyond the canvas and extending her work to unconventional surfaces such as walls, floors and furniture. In her words, she is concerned with 'making work that is actively engaged with furthering and challenging what painting can be.' Early projects saw Cain painting on abandoned buildings in her native upstate New York; in 2002, she painted floorboards of an abandoned New York hotel in shades of red, and similarly in 2004, she completed an installation in a San Francisco squat. Such site-specific works have become central to her practice, a development Cain attributes to an early unease with making stand-alone objects. For her, working on-site was an attempt to eliminate control; as she says, 'by embracing the ephemeral, I had to think and act in the present tense.' For her major solo exhibition Dark Matter at Galerie Lelong (8 September–15 October 2016), Cain created a 3000-square-foot site-specific work that viewers could walk on while they viewed other works hung on the walls, bending the boundaries between painting and installation.
In 2011, Cain ccompleted a major site-specific work in a former Masonic lodge in Marfa, Texas, for Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND). Titled Forget me not, the installation spread across the first floor of the building and explored the imagery of the forgot-me-not flower, used by Masons and later by Nazis. Exploring belief systems, doubt and faith, the paintings spread across the building's walls and floors. One large painting even incorporated an overturned cupboard into its composition. Such recycling and inclusion of domestic furniture has become a mainstay of Cain's practice; couches, chairs and benches figure large in her recent works. In 2015, she painted in red splatters a seat that her neighbour abandoned after his wedding was called off, calling it love seat.
On view between September 2017 and March 2018, Cain presented a 40-foot-long, vivid patch-work painting installation at the courtyard entrance of the new Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Titled Now I'm going to tell you everything, the work was named after a poem written for the artist by Bernadette Mayer. Cain has also held solo exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh, North Carolina, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, California, and has been included in several museum group exhibitions and solo gallery exhibitions including Wild Flower at Timothy Taylor, London (18 April–2 June 2018).
Cain ran away from her rural home in upstate New York at 15 and studied painting in Paris, before transferring to San Francisco Art Institute and University of California, Berkeley, where she didn't study painting but kept it as her 'secret project'. In 1997, Cain moved to California, where she now lives and works in a home-studio. Cain paints every day, maintaining an astute sensitivity to colour and an openness to process. As she says, 'I believe in the painting showing me more than me telling the painting what to be.'