Visual Arts

Martin Cail unveils energetic ink abstractions in his exhibit at Todd Weiner Gallery

This Untitled 2014 work in ink on white board by Kansas City artist Martin Cail is part of his exhibit, “Storms and Forms” at Todd Weiner Gallery.
This Untitled 2014 work in ink on white board by Kansas City artist Martin Cail is part of his exhibit, “Storms and Forms” at Todd Weiner Gallery. From the artist

Kansas City artist Martin Cail is known for his sculptural work but switches gears in his exhibit, “Storms and Forms” at the Todd Weiner Gallery.

In energetic ink abstractions, Cail employs a palette of hot pinks, oranges, blues, yellows and some green/brown tones.

The paintings are amorphous, yet at times they suggest landscape or a sort of floral interiority. Some of the works share a kinship with very early Georgia O’Keeffe abstractions from the 1910s, in which she reduced the natural world into watery and lyrical passages of color and shape.

Cail also harnesses the ephemeral qualities of Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis’ more fluid stain paintings.

Cail’s untitled paintings emerge from his interest in chance and exploration. In an email he noted, “I chose ink because of its fluidity and solvent reactions.

Much of my focus over the last few years has revolved around finding a balance between control and accident in an effort to find work that is less rigid/sterile/heavy-handed.”

These loose-jointed works are liquid-y, and the thin washes with their pooled edges bump against manipulated ink passages, creating visual tension and depth. Despite manipulating the ink, Cail also capitalizes on accidental relationships and unpredictability as the ink spreads and interacts with solvents and with other colors and shapes.

One piece, with a bloody-looking nucleus, is contained by an oval shape that spatially holds the composition together. Here Cail perhaps finds that balance between control and freedom, rigidity and plasticity. Two other dark and broody works have an ambiguous landscape feel about them. In another, amoeba shapes seem to emerge from a deep well of liquid matter.

Cail’s tendency to contain his forms within the boundary of the frame is noteworthy. Most of the works have a central image that feels bound, but not wholly constricted by the physical edges of the painting, and Cail distributes a lot of movement within these centralized forms.

For instance, a vessel-like form emerges from a vertical painting’s center. This conceit, along with the other paintings, suggests Cail’s background as a sculptor, for whom all of the edges are important.

Allowing us to see almost all of the edges of his abstract and fluid forms links these paintings to his earlier sculptural work, his ability to picture things — in the loosest, most poetic sense of the word — and to his self-awareness as an artist. He writes, “Simply put, I do paint things and I’ve come to accept that as no more or less valid than any other pursuit.”

Cail’s paintings are not so much a formal exploration of spatial relationships as they are an expressive examination of limitations and how they can be manipulated, stretched, and reordered. He writes that it’s about “pushing aside the visual and auditory calamity around oneself to see the detail, the moment, the important.”

The elasticity of Cail’s pigment, always moving, sometimes thinned to translucency and sometimes darkly opaque signifies some release from expectations and a turn toward beauty.

And for sure, the paintings are insistently beautiful. The startling colors, sinuous lines, unexpected juxtapositions and sheer energy suggests that the artist’s pleasure in the language of painting embraces everything, including the drips, the washes and the edges.

On exhibit

“Martin Cail: Storms & Forms” continues through Jan. 31 at Todd Weiner Gallery, 115 W. 18th St. Hours are 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and by appointment. For more information, call 816-984-8538 or go to