Peter Cain

Matthew Marks Gallery | 1062 N Orange Grove
1062 N Orange Grove
June 24, 2017–September 1, 2017

Peter Cain, Sean Number Two, 1996, oil on linen, 60 x 84".

Because Peter Cain died so young—he began working in the late 1980s and died in 1997—he left a limited but conceptually concise oeuvre to make sense of. He is perhaps best known for his paintings of cars; whole, as in Satellite, 1988, or chopped and collaged, as in Glider, 1995. Similar to the look of the fold-ins at the back of MAD magazines, Cain would truncate advertising images of vehicles in ways that heightened and perverted the eroticism that has long undergirded automobile design. Then the artist painted these strange appropriations onto large canvases, some more than seven feet tall. In these works any hint of the people-moving utility of this particular form of transport is excised, and the vehicles can seem paradoxically airless and exciting.

All eight paintings on display here are of cars, save for two: One is of a gas station where all signage has been removed, Mobil, and the other, Sean Number Two, both 1996, depicts a man lifting his head up from a beach blanket, his bleach-blond ponytail obeying gravity. This is Sean LeClair, a punk musician and Cain’s lover, and the artist’s portrait has all the intimacy of a Joan Semmel work, though without the sexual explicitness. Freckles and facial hair are rendered carefully and faithfully. But the real delight of this show is in the second gallery, which engrosses a viewer with dozens of drawings, collages, and notebooks that together illuminate Cain’s working processes. In her eulogy for him, Nan Goldin spoke of how his car paintings “buried the American dream immobilized by unfulfilled desires,” but as this exhibition proves, they also did something else—figuring a queer tenderness in the wilds of an asphalt world.

— Andy Campbell