See lots of colors?
When it comes to his artwork, color him exuberant
BOB KEYES Staff Writer November 13, 2005
Zoo Cain is covered in paint. He's been working on a car, but not under the hood. Using chop sticks and metal rods, the 53-year-old self-trained artist flings a rainbow of colors on the hood, fenders, doors and roof - even the outer fringes of the automobile's windshield.
"This is a surprise for a friend. I hope he likes it," says Cain, with a wry smile. "It's a surprise for her son's birthday. He normally likes my stuff. But who knows if he wants it on his car?"
Too late now. The car is covered, and the enamel paint is not coming off.
Cain, who lives near Willard Beach, has legendary status in the Greater Portland art scene.
Best known for his geometric abstract circle paintings, Cain adds splatters and splotches to everyday objects, "any surface that is user friendly."
He never intended to become an artist.
He's a musician at heart, he says, only he never really mastered an instrument. He sees his artwork as an extension of his musical soul.
This past summer, he took first place in South Portland's art show at Mill Creek - an award that left him humbled.
"When they announced I was the first-place winner, I just had to take a walk. I was shocked," he said.
Q: Let's start by talking about color. In everything you do, color probably is the most prominent element. What about color turns you on?
A: The crazy brightness of color. The emotions they describe and elicit. Like fields of tulips in Holland, colors are very exciting.
Q: How did you get started on your circle art?
A: When life is on track, centered and you have a general sense of well-being, circles will emerge in your visual artwork and you will desire to create or make art on circle surfaces.
Q: What do you use? Pencils on plywood? What is the surface?
A: I use paint, pencils, crayons, pens, markers, Cray-Pas, pastels, charcoal and various other mediums on any wood surface that is user-friendly.
Q: I saw you once working on a piece at Merrill Auditorium during the Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, Guy Clark, John Hiatt show. How did being at that show influence the final piece?
A: Working with great music that is prerecorded or live is a collaboration with the musicians. These musicians you just mentioned all have deep personal meaning to me, and the concert was a big success and the piece came out great. They all signed it after the show.
Q: You won the top prize in this summer's art show at Mill Creek in South Portland. How did that feel? What did that mean for you . . .?
A: Winning first place was surreal. Last year's second place I figured was a fluke and it would be a long time, if ever, for another award. Those awards certainly gave me a lot of recognition and after 30 years a sweet validation in my own mind.
Q: Among other things, you also do a lot of collage work that often involves celebrities and pop culture icons. Why do you think our society is so tuned in to the lives of celebrities?
A: Well, after all, celebrities are often our best musicians, actors and athletes, and it's a blast to feel like you know them, by all the media, while knowing it's only a few degrees of separation between us.
Q: Do you have a favorite TV show? If so, what is it?
A: I would have to say "Desperate Housewives" I get a big kick out of. "60 Minutes" is still my favorite.
Q: Many people recognize you because of your car, which is totally unique. How does your approach to car art differ from your collage work or your circle art?
A: When I paint cars, it's the same as all my other art - it's a wild expression of my inner and outer exuberance for life.
Q: Found objects figure prominently in your work, as well. What makes a hubcap worth saving, or some other piece of a car that you have found in the road?
A: The metalworks are particular shapes that I find irresistible, that need to be preserved, spiffed up and put together with other metal pieces to make a work of art.
Q: Let's talk about your house. What influenced your decision to use so many colors?
A: Places where I live become extensions of my work and then works all to themselves. When it comes to the colors of the house, my wife and best friend, Alex Elizabeth, has veto power and most often picks the colors. Luckily all the work inside and outside the house is a labor of love.
Q: I know you are a huge fan of Bob Dylan. What about Bob captures your interest? Do you have a favorite album or moment in his career that you keep going back to?
A: Bob Dylan is simply the best. He is altogether authentic, hugely gifted and a remarkable human being. Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan represent the true core of America. `Blood on the Tracks' is super great, but what has Bob done that isn't? I love the current Bob. He cannot and never has done wrong in my book.
Q: Music is a big part of your life. Do you remember the first concert you attended?
A: My first show was Wilson Pickett at Bowdoin College light years ago.
Q: Did you ever see the Beatles?
A: I see the Beatles every day in my mind's eye.
Q: OK, no interview with you would be complete without a question about your name. Everybody wants to know: Is Zoo Cain your real name?
A: Zoo Cain is as real as it's going to get. It's been Zoo for 35 years. Started as Louis Philip Cousineau Jr., which I'm quite fond of, but I wanted my own name.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:
Festival offers abstract artist solid recognition
ELBERT AULL Staff Writer August 14, 2005 Zoo Cain has been making abstract art for almost 30 years, but only picked up his first big-time recognition at last year's Art in the Park festival in South Portland. He figured he'd have to wait three decades to win another award.
He was wrong.
Cain's brightly colored abstract piece, "Hope Springs Eternal," won first prize at this year's festival, held Saturday at Mill Creek Park.
"A celebration of life is what it's all about," said the 53-year-old of his work.
The festival takes around eight months to plan and $10,000 to $13,000 to put on, but provides exposure for many established and up-and-coming artists from Maine and away, said Mary Kahl, chairwoman of the Art in the Park committee.
Around 185 artists paid to rent space at this year's festival. Proceeds from the event help fund improvements to Mill Creek Park, Kahl said.
She said artists come from as far away as Hawaii and New Mexico to display their work at the annual show, which began in 1980.
For Ellen Ferrara, 43, of South Portland, the event was the first high-profile location to display her "driftwood art."
Ferrara has been taking her boat out to islands in Casco Bay for years, picking up driftwood and rocks of odd shapes.
She pointed to pictures of a map of the United States made out of rocks she collected over the past two-and-a-half years.
"My friends are like, `Now you have to do continents,' " Ferrara said.
Ferrara recently started selling fireplace screens and sculptures inspired by what she collects while out on her boat, and hopes to use the money to build a studio addition onto her house.
Artist Kevin Cheney, 45, of South Portland, admitted he hadn't sold much Saturday afternoon. Cheney, however, said the fair is a chance to keep his name fresh in the minds of potential customers.
"The reason I do these shows is to get with the public. . . . It's nice exposure for me," he said.
Staff Writer Elbert Aull can be contacted at 324-4888 or at: