Story Paintings

David Kane’s tall tales


What: New works by painter David C. Kane and assemblage artist Launi Lucas

Where: i.e. gallery, 5800 Cains Court, Edison


WHEN: 11am-5pm Fri.-Sun., through Oct. 30

Cost: Free


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

“Where does one go after reaching the pinnacle of artistic achievement—a solo retrospective at the Frye Museum?” asks the promo flyer for David C. Kane’s exhibit of his paintings at i.e. gallery in Edison.

Kane, a lifelong teacher of art, is a master of technique. His touch is light, colors subtly blended, the paint on his canvas, thinned. All of his paintings are scenes on land or sea or a city street—not mere landscapes, in which there’s nothing going on. Stories are his line.

Until the 20th century, story painting was art’s noblest and highest calling. Crowds mobbed the Louvre for a glimpse of the appalling shipwreck depicted in Gericault’s “Raft of the Medusa.” And every history student recognizes Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” The invention of photography put story painting out to pasture.

Reviving discarded fashions is a postmodern theme. Kane’s stories, however, are contemporary: spaceships, detective fiction, classical ruins, natural disasters and utopian dreams. In “Postures and Monuments” we see a gumshoe detective and his dame—she in red, possibly weeping. But Kane adds a clown; he beats a drum as he strolls between monumental statues dominated by a two-story head of Mussolini. What are we to make of all this?

Kane’s “Swell” features a person in a rowboat. Far beyond, tentacles wave. The yellow sky and the brown water make a dramatic, if odd, contrast. This tableau of apparent menace is strangely tranquil. Does the oarsman hope to outpace the sea monster? Is the giant squid waving a friendly goodbye? 

By retreating from visual explicitness, Kane makes his meaning more subtle and elusive, which ramps up the picture’s emotional power. And this ironic distance from the action is one more hallmark of the postmodern sensibility. 

“Meteor” is set close to home. Above indifferent oil tankers in Padilla Bay, a meteor descends. The flaming rock falls so gradually, a figure in a yellow raincoat has time to recognize it, to point to it, perhaps even to offer welcome. Kane’s narrative complexity draws us in and leaves us wondering. 

The sculptural assemblages of Launi Lucas explore a reality akin to Kane’s puzzling pieces. She’s an Emily Carr graduate in painting who has found her métier in scientific illustration. As she spends her days crouched over a microscope, meticulously cataloguing each leg and tarsus of a preserved insect, she dreams of wilder horizons. Wandering the beaches and stream banks, she brings home flotsam that her art endows with new life. 

Abandoned hardware becomes a lighthouse. Battered old lobster buoys emerge as narwhal, freighter, a walleye. A toothy red whale, scarred with nails, screws and staples spouts a plume of dryer lint and dog hair, while on its back rides a scientist—perhaps the pensive Launi, herself.

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