A small airplane seems posed to make an emergency landing in the mountains. A hedgerow sports cartoon-like bouquets of fire as do a trailer and a submarine. Houses and oil rigs tumble into the water. Ships leak oil and a bridge twists itself.
Such morbid occurrences characterize "Mishaps: Monotypes and U-Assemble Disasters," the current show at Cayuga Heights' Corners Gallery highlighting the work of printmaker Craig Mains. He gives us a compelling teleology for his story-world; in an accompanying statement he imagines "large man-made objects and proscribed spaces...as attractors of natural malaise." So it goes, and with a logic that is both otherworldly and convincing.
Mains' style and technique are as distinctive as his subject matter. Working primarily in monotype (one-of-a-kind prints) he manipulates hand-painted acetate cutouts in a collage-like manner on a hard plate. After printing these, Mains will often change their arrangement and run the plate through the press again, resulting in color-faded "ghost" images. This combination of toy-like hard-edged shapes, repetition with variation, and painterly rendering is rich and well suited to his narrative imagination.
Although "Mishaps" presents a range of experiments and novelties, it is the relatively traditional work that stands out.
His large-scale triptych Cessna, Cloud, and Mountain Range is the most impressive of these by far. It consists of three framed square-ish sheets and can be read as a narrative sequence, from left to right, in the manner of a comic strip.
The first frame is ghost-ly, the silhouette of the plane merging into that of a cloud, both faint blue-green. It suggests the just-occurred; the second offers up the here-and-now with a solid dark brown aircraft aimed rightward (echoing its shadowy predecessor) towards an imposing peak, darker blue-green. Looking ahead, the final frame shows nothing but landscape: blue-green, green, a patch of black and white — all swirled together in a manner suggesting both Chinese ink landscape and Abstract Expressionism. Where is that plane headed?
Filter is another fine example of Mains in his most familiar mode. Colored in a range of ochres, pinks, reddish and orangish browns and watery yellows, it gives a characteristically surreal take on the depredations of flooding.
In front, perched on dark cliff, stands a lone house with indications of a chimney, windows and doors, and a front staircase. Behind it is a large expanse of river, coming in from the left edge of the sheet and winding its way into the far background, towards the upper right corner. Spanning it diagonally is an arch bridge, its feet progressively twisted toward the viewer as it moves closer to her. To its left, many partially drowned dwellings, houses scattered like tumbled dice. Comically, the bridge appears to block the houses from flowing further downstream — hence the title.
Recently, the artist has been experimenting a group of ideas that are idiosyncratic, at least in a fine-art context. Although animation and paper sculpture are not unexpected directions, his simultaneous use of do-it-yourself hobbyist formats certainly is.
Mains' prints imply a world in violent motion. It's unsurprising, therefore, to see his recent turn to animation. He has built a zoetrope, a nineteenth-century animation device. A strip printed with a sequence of images — here an inkjet copy of hand-printed work — is attached to the inside of a wheel. Through holes we can see a moment in time. Turn the crank and we can see motion. This is a good idea with rich potential. Here the image he has chosen, Storm Surge and Oil Rig— the title tells the story — seems a bit random in its moment-to-moment transitions (compare it with Cessna).
Images from his Oil Rig series are also presented behind frames. They vary both in color and in precise arrangement. Again the action seems arbitrary, more explicitly so since we can see everything at once.
More interesting is a U-Assemble Burning Trailer, a diorama made up of folded paper — again inkjet replicas — framed behind wood and glass. The trailer is placed at a diagonal. It is monochrome save for its green striped awnings. It sports an ear-like pair of red-orange flames; another flame occupies the foreground like shrubbery. In the background is a red-orange-brown volcano. Mountain, smoke, and fire merge into a single blurry mass.
Burning Sub, a small screenprint, distills Mains' oddball logic into uncommonly compact form. A solid black submarine, in profile, is submerged in cool gray water; crowning it is a bright, spongy yellow-green flame.
Mains shows his prints around town only sporadically, so a visit to this slightly offbeat venue — The Corners is a suburban frame-shop — is highly worthwhile. This is the work of an ambitious and idiosyncratic sensibility. That said, not everything here works well, particularly amongst the outliers and experiments.