Charlotte Cain — in her own words, and on exhibit in Fairfield

Charlotte Cain exhibit

ICON Gallery, Fairfield — through Oct. 22

Work by Charlotte Cain -- photo courtesy of Michael Peter Cain
Work by Charlotte Cain — photo courtesy of Michael Peter Cain

Several years ago, during an exhibition of her work at Bill Teeple’s ICON gallery in Fairfield, Iowa, Charlotte Cain began a talk, “Two things: First I want to talk about lines. When you make a line, you’ve got to feel it; it’s like dancing. I’m talking about miniature painting, but if you look, abstract expressionists use the line too. When you work with lines, it’s as if you’re working with a dance.” She rolled her wrist as if her hand was holding a brush and marked the air with swirls, like a conductor.

“Its that the line brings you within. It helps settle your physiology. It’s a beautiful thing,” Cain continued.

Cain studied with master miniature painter, Bannu Sharma, who admitted her into his studio in Jaipur, India, after receiving her copy of his work. She painted two porpoises set in sky blue water. Up close, the waves are a pattern of repeated, precisely spaced, white curved lines. Sharma’s work, commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy, was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

“And the second thing, which is something I work on all the time, is honesty. If you’re going to paint, you gotta be honest; honest about what you’re doing, that you’re doing it for yourself. Who is the self. Who is the self? You’re doing it for all of creation. Who is the self? Know yourself,” she gently urged.

Work by Charlotte Cain -- photo courtesy of Michael Peter Cain
Work by Charlotte Cain — photo courtesy of Michael Peter Cain

Cain shared how her friend, renowned artist Agnes Martin, told her, “If you love what you’re doing, other people will love it too. You have to have that love. You cannot paint for anyone else. If you’re going to paint, you have to paint for yourself. If you’re going to draw, you have to draw for yourself. You can’t do it because this is the style or that is the style. But you also have to give in and learn how to paint, to learn to draw a line, to learn how to see or how to feel and how to put down what we feel in order to be honest. Ask your voices; ask yourself. Be honest with yourself, is this really what I want to do?”

Cain passed away not long after that talk, yet her work is vital, living and on exhibit once more at ICON Gallery (58 N Main St, Fairfield), until Oct. 22. Cain finished that talk: “Some of these paintings you pass by and others you stop and go oh, that means something to me.”

Sculptor Michael Peter Cain, her husband, who with his wife co-founded the School of Art at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, put up her current exhibit of work with Teeple.

Cain’s work transcends painting into a realm we seldom have an opportunity to recognize. She might have been exhibited at the Drawing Center in New York City along with Martin, Emma Kunst and Hilma af Klint, had she not gone back to India at the time. All of their work reflects visionary interpretations. Each of these women brings forth a resonance of shape, pattern and form both new and ancient. Reaching beyond archetype towards primordial sound, there is an essence of nature’s growth of forms, wielding a truth at the edge of our reckoning.

Cain’s weavings in the front room of ICON Gallery are smaller versions of her work in the collection at Iowa State University. She has shown at the Des Moines Art Center; Octagon Gallery — Center for the Arts in Ames; and in galleries from California to New York City, Paris and as far as New Delhi. Her dealer, Kapil Jariwala, is based in London.