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Michael Caines: Personal Bests

Art Gallery of Peterborough, Jan 14 to Mar 6 2011
Michael Caines <I>Purgastoria</I> 2004 Courtesy Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects Michael Caines Purgastoria 2004 Courtesy Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects

Michael Caines <I>Purgastoria</I> 2004 Courtesy Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects

Toronto- and New York City–based artist Michael Caines is certainly not alone among his peers in his partiality for pop surrealism, anthropomorphism, perversity and deadpan wit. Still, Caines’ new exhibition at the Art Gallery of Peterborough, which coincides with a group exhibition including his work at Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects in Toronto, takes us inside an eccentric imagination, and is rife with poignant, personal detail.

Two series in particular promise illuminations of the artist’s singular mind and experiences. Purgastoria represents Caines’ own childhood notion of mortality, which was augmented, or perhaps corrected, during a series of illnesses leading up to the series' completion. Integrating, as the title indicates, a fanciful, Dantean existentialism, the drawings are nightmarish—if still somehow endearingly cute—vignettes of loss, confusion and disintegration. In a few works, ghosts, skeletons and baby dolls mingle in a bare forest; in others, sock monkeys and other cartoon personages man stretchers beside makeshift brick pyramids. In counterpoint, El Dorado is a vigorous, if still death-haunted, series triggered by the artist’s travels in California and New Mexico, and by “How It Is,” a short story by Peterborough author Janette Platana. Trading Dante for Spanish-colonial legend, Caines depicts murders of crows, lone wolves and a pair of cowboys who might have stepped out of Brokeback Mountain. Typically for the artist, the madness is cut with delicate ink and gouache strokes—and with humour, tongue firmly planted in cheek. (250 Crescent St, Peterborough ON)

This article was first published online on January 13, 2011.

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