Dana Cain is the lady with her thumb in a million pies: The local maestra of event-planning throws several well-attended collectors expos, art shows, parties, chocolate fests each year. Her latest -- and biggest -- project is next summer's Denver County Fair. But Dana is also an avid art collector who's made a conscious decision to collect works by Colorado artists on a regular basis.
Dana estimates that she buys an average of two to four pieces a month, when she can afford it. And her house is one big gallery/art installation, with themed rooms arranged and designed to best show off her growing collection. Over the coming weeks, we'll be exploring the individual works and why they belong to Dana Cain.
When you walk into Dana Cain's art house, one of the first things you see, on the wall opposite the front door, is this grouping, which includes three larger, eye-popping works: "Man Reaching for the Stars," by the Colorado modernist Edward Marecak; "Boar," a sculpture by newcomer Lindsay Pichaske; and "Cosmonaut," as well as smaller pieces by Brianna Martray and Mark Friday. It's a wonderful testament to how completely unrelated works can play off one another and still make sense individually. And it's also a stunning cross-section of Dana's collection that says a lot about her and her choices as a collector, all in the blink of an eye. But Dana fills in the details best: Dana bought this perfect mid-century painting from Colorado art dealer Lee Ballentine's Gallup Fine Art House, and it was truly another case of love at first sight: "This is one of my absolute most prized pieces in the entire collection. I love his work -- Marecak is one the very few Colorado artists I collect who's not contemporary; this was painted in the late 1950s. I love his style: It's reminiscent of stained glass, yet so mid-century. When I first saw it at Lee Ballentine's house, it actually made me tear up a little. I had to have it -- it reminds me of old science fiction book covers -- but it wasn't until I got it home that I saw the monkey's face on the guy's torso. I hung it up thinking, 'There's a freaking monkey face -- oh no, what have I done?'"
But then the deeper meaning sunk in: "I think it's about human aspiration, about striving to be looking for a place in the universe where we might better ourselves," Dana explains. "I realized that the ape face is referencing human evolution, and that it adds another dimension to the painting. We all have that primal core animal inside of us, and yet we're reaching for the stars. And here's the kicker: The main thing that helps elevate us above animals is art. It's the zenith of human achievement, the thing that helps us reach for the stars."
Pichaske is primarily a ceramic artist, fresh from CU-Boulder's MFA program, so the bead-covered "Boar" is a lucky departure that had a starring role in last January's Emerging Four show at Vertigo Art Space. "Most people don't know this: The table is actually part of the artwork," Dana says. "In a way, it helps add gravity to the piece, like another layer of weirdness. There's such a contrast in textures and materials -- the rusty metal and the beautiful glittering pig. You expect to see a wild boar racing through the brush, not hiding under a table.
"Another thing: I was born in Arkansas, and Arkansas has that red razorback thing going on, so my roots are part of what drew me to this pig. It also reminded me of Lauri Lynnxe Murphy's work, and you know how I love Lauri. And it's so beautifully surreal. She used a taxidermy form to make it, but she didn't even try to put on ears. When I saw it at Vertigo, I thought, 'Oh crap, where's the price sheet?' Anyway, who doesn't love a pig?" I do. As an aside, I also coveted this wonderful and weird piece from the moment I saw it on Vertigo's website and wanted all the world to know about it; in a way, I'm happy to know where it now lives. Gone -- to a good home.
Dana missed out on getting one of Steve Antonio's cosmonaut paintings when he first showed them a few years ago at Capsule Gallery. But a twist of fate dropped one in her lap for a very good price -- a man who'd bought one had to later give it up because his new wife hated it -- and now it hangs on that important introductory wall, clear proof of her enduring love for the U.S. and Russian space programs. Dana even used to have a dog named Laika, after the Russian space dog, a stray who, as the first animal to orbit the planet, lost his life in the Sputnik 2 spacecraft in 1957.
This painting is of the cosmonaut Pavel Popovich, a fact not lost on a Russian cable guy who came to work in Dana's home: "He was talking just like Chekhov in Star Trek," says Dana, a closet Trekkie. "He knew all about Popovich, and he was so smitten with that painting." According to Dana, "Steve Antonio is a master of mod pop. Everything he paints has a pitch-perfect mid-century pop aesthetic. That is my favorite thing about his style ... and his content is always right up my alley, too. He lives in a fantastic mod home...Steve is all about the mod look."
Like what you see? Future installments are imminent. Watch Westword's Show and Tell blog for more.