Los Angeles-based artist Sarah Cain explores abstraction in a range of media. Cain paints on found objects, paper, loosely hung cloth, canvases, and often onto the wall beyond the frame. She combines hard-edge abstraction with gestural strokes. Recently she has been working with stained glass, making abstract pieces that she unifies through the use of a broad spectrum of color.
Cain grew up in Kinderhook, New York. She first saw real art – works by Joan Mitchel, Philip Guston, and Robert Motherwell – thanks to a public arts fund which lined the walls of an underground mall near Kinderhook.
Cain studied in France on a full scholarship to the Paris campus of Parsons School of Design before attending the San Francisco Art Institute where she received her B.F.A. in 2001. She received her M.F.A. in studio art at the University of California at Berkeley. In 2006, she attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She has lived and worked in Los Angeles since 2007 where she made ephemeral large-scale paintings inside abandoned buildings. “I think of my work as painting moving into Sculpture.”
Her abstractions seem animated and in motion as in the Hammer Museum’s 2019 Frieze Los Angeles show, which was held on the back lot of Paramount Studios. Cain painted every surface of a classic brownstone film set. Later that year her first permanent public work was unveiled. She took the art form of stained glass out of the church and into one of the most heavily trafficked spaces in the country – the new Air Train terminal at San Francisco’s International Airport. “We Will Walk Right Up To The Sun” is a 150-foot stained glass work in more than 270 colors in 37 stained-glass windows, framed in soldered zinc and arranged so that no two adjoining fragments are the same shade. This installation channels her earlier paintings as well as the rainbow-colored prismatic compositions of her more recent paintings and drawings.
Cain’s use of abstraction has also been channeled into portraits. In her painting of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the justice’s white lace collar becomes a strong of pearls. In her portrait of Camala Harris, the Vice President’s first name is spelled out in deep red with hearts standing in for the three ‘A’s” in her name. “I look at a person and see colors.”
Cain’s work has been included in several group exhibitions in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Ohio’s Pizzuti Collection; Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum; and Austria’s Imperial Belvedere Palace. Cain has had recent solo exhibitions at San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina. In 2021, Cain had a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Atrium, Washington, D.C.
The Orange County Museum of Art acquired Cain’s “eight-talisman installation,” which consists of painted dollar bills suspended from the ceiling with rising wire. The backs are silver or gold while the fronts have vibrant colors. Her work is also in the permanent collections of Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the San Antonio Museum of Art, and others.