House of Cain


Sometimes when artists talk about their work, our eyes glaze over and television theme songs start playing in our head. Although we often want to know what inspired them or long for them to explain just what it all means, we’ve learned that there’s a reason why they express themselves in a medium other than words.

Marcus Cain is different, though. Cain serves as the managing editor of Review, Kansas City’s regional arts publication. He’s also a writer and an instructor at the Kansas City Art Institute. And he coordinates the Corporate Partnership Exhibition Program, which makes sure that art by KCAI grads finds its way into offices around town, where it can make life a little better for unfortunates who toil in otherwise gray cubicle farms. Sometimes he curates shows. Given all of those responsibilities, it’s no wonder that Tales of Caution is his first solo exhibition since a Dolphin show all the way back in 2000.

“These jobs are about working with the community in some ways, like an opportunity to give back. I think being an artist is kind of a selfish endeavor,” Cain admits, laughing.

The show, opening this weekend, consists of seven paintings and 12 drawings. Cain uses traditional morality tales as a way to anchor his weird little pattern-covered characters, often juxtaposing humanlike forms and more abstract shapes. “The Scorpion and the Frog,” based on the parable in which a scorpion stings a frog halfway across the river, causing both to drown, plays out on the canvas at a riverbank, but the animals are absent. Two boxy figures walk along the water; one looks like a boy and the other like a faceless robot.

“It’s almost an adversarial relationship,” Cain says. “There’s a tension between them, but you’re not quite sure.” The painting could depict evolution, though it’s not clear which character serves as the ancestor.

Or it might just be Cain’s attempt to have a little fun. “There’s an elitism to abstraction that needs to be demystified,” he says. That sounds good to us. Otherwise, those TV theme songs might start playing.