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Jeff Cairns’ small-scale works are painted on scrap gathered at the lithograph shop he works at. His subjects are scraps too. Stray dogs, crows, birds–that often look more forlorn than free—the occasional skeleton and monkeys. Employing watercolor, or more rarely gouache, Cairns evokes these characters so sparely that he describes the work as drawings. The color palette is muted–grays, browns, blacks, an occasional aqua , or maybe when he’s going full bore a whole scrap painted in variations of a rich hopeful blue. But most often the creatures are left with no landscape, or very little. They themselves are bewildered, aliens in their own environment: the dogs crouched, often defensively, or positioned awkwardly, hesitating, often bemused. Where to now. Perplexed, quizzical they look out, leaving the viewer no choice but to look within, they’re remnants of cartoons that tell a novel. Even a flock of birds, each depicted differently, are lonely in their separateness.
Cairns grew up amongst a small crowd, a set of five brothers that, like he, painted through childhood. What drove him to Los Angeles, however, was music. Cairns quit college when his band was signed by a label, landing within the formal art world only when he needed a job and a musician friend got him work as an assistant. Those responsibilities eventually led him to the scrap he works on and with. But he will tell you, he had “never given up the brush.”