BETSY CAIN has lived on the edge of the marsh on Wilmington Island for over twenty years. Her proximity to the marsh informs her work in "saturation," up now at Laney Contemporary.
“The marsh is one of the phenomenal ecosystems of the world,” Cain asserts. “It affects us all.”
“saturation” presents a variety of different methods Cain uses in her paintings, including some experimentation with shredded yupo paper that happened completely by accident.
“I was playing around with the paper and I got a blob, so I took a razor blade to get the blob off and I ended up scraping the first layer,” Cain explains. “I thought, that looks really good!”
Yupo is a laminate paper, so the shreds come from lifting both the laminate and the painted surface. The shredded paper hangs down in rivulets that clump together.
“I’ve been experimenting with different widths of the shreds,” she says. “Activating the effect of that, in relationship to the painted image, it has its own physics. You can groom these; you can straighten the shreds out somewhat. I like it when it’s a little tangled—it simulates the marsh wrack.”
One of her oil paintings uses broad, swirling strokes of silver and graphite to simulate the depth of the marsh.
“This is very much a marsh painting,” Cain explains. “We swim in our creek and for years have removed wrack from the marsh that smudges the marsh grass. This is very much about walking through that channel at low tide. You can’t walk in the marsh without water or you’ll get stuck. People panic when they sink—it feels like quicksand.”
One of her latest experiments is painting gouache on primed d’arches paper, a technique that allows for easy layering.
“The linear aspect, I can see my paintings going in this direction. Look how much you can say with line,” she enthuses. “To me, it looks like a landscape. I do gouache every now and then—it’s just an exploratory thing with line. I like what it suggests spatially.”
Cain likes to pair up pieces or present them in groups.
“There’s a relationship established, but they’re like fraternal twins,” she explains. “If you get stuck on one painting, you can move to the next. Whatever’s working here, this panel kind of informs this panel. It extends the narrative. I usually separate them at the end and look at the painting as a final piece. I add touches that make it its own. I like the dialogue, I like the film quality. You can read it like that so it has a span of time and motion.”
Her use of color is particularly striking.
“The palette sometimes just starts with one color laid down as an undertone or a series of random marks.” Cain muses
“The choice of that color, depending on the type of color, determines what’s added to it. The palette comes from that. Sometimes the choices come randomly. I’m very interested in limited palettes that have a real resonance. I call them retinal resonances—if you close your eyes, sometimes you get a duality.”
Cain’s willingness to shake things up helps keep her work fresh. She occasionally posts pictures of her work on Facebook and solicits opinion on how she should rotate the piece for presentation.
“I think my works have a figurative component even when they’re abstract. When it’s turned sideways, it looks like a silhouette,” Cain says, gesturing to a painting. “Invariably, the painting ends up working almost in all directions. I finished it like this, but I posted it on Facebook and asked which way, and the interaction is very curious. People are really strong about which choice they make.”
Cain also worked on the mirrored wall room in Laney Contemporary, an invitation extended to all artists who show there.
“Some artists may not be able to work with it because it’s challenging, but it’s also exciting,” she notes. “I knew immediately that I would soap it.”
Using a mixture of Ivory soap and distilled water, Cain painted the mirrored surface to create a smudged, dreamy look.