In the late 1980s Peter Cain started the paintings for which he first became known: automobiles, ranging from classic muscle cars to late-model sedans, distorted into hallucinatory new forms. Painted with precision, their gleaming surfaces intensify the seductiveness of the advertising images on which they were based. Klaus Kertess called them “literal and figurative icons of autoeroticism.”
In 1995 Cain made a group of drawings and paintings of his partner Sean. Part figure studies, part landscapes, they depict the subject’s reclining head, neck, and shoulders on a sandy beach. They were a departure from the car paintings, a development Peter Schjeldahl hailed as “the creation of a new high style able intelligently to capture intimate nuances of contemporary Eros on a public scale.” The following year Cain began another body of work: paintings and drawings of Los Angeles gas stations and chain stores. A few weeks before his third exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery, where these paintings were to be shown for the first time, Cain died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was thirty-seven years old.
Peter Cain (1959–1997) had his first one-person exhibition in 1989. His work was included in the 1993 and 1995 Whitney Biennials and has been exhibited at museums in Europe, Asia, and the United States.