MICHAEL CAINES is a New York City based painter. His most recent exhibitions include Cat Art Show Los Angeles, Mammalia at Galerie Youn in Montreal, and Volta NYC with Katharine Mulherin, a solo art fair booth featured in the New York Times. His work is featured in The Book Of The Cat released by Laurence King Publishing August 2017, and on the cover of Bad Ideas, poetry by Michael V. Smith, published by Nightwood Editions. Caines has been selected for a number of artist residencies, including the Santa Fe Art Institute and The Bemis Center. Past awards include fellowships from the Avery and Chalmers foundations. His book, Revelations & Dog, a graphic version of the Book of Revelations, was released in March 2010. A ten year survey of his animal and human themed work, Wild/Tame, was exhibited at the Art Gallery of Peterborough in Canada in 2011.

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The Passion of Jesus, fashion and decorative chickens

“Hot White Jesus…”

Below is a discussion between myself and Daniel who recently commissioned a portrait of Jesus. I wanted to hear his thoughts about the imagery in his painting, which we had not previously discussed. A painting of Jesus feels transgressive in the context of contemporary art, which for me is appealing. You’ll notice in our discussion that in many ways Daniel and I were thinking differently about the image we were making together, while the kinds of images we both take pleasure in are clearly connected. For comparison, I’ve included an image of another recently completed painting, “George”, from a series I’m working on. I would love to hear your thoughts about these images, my conversation with Daniel, or ideas for commissions that you have in mind.

Michael: In our collaboration we focused on the aesthetics of your painting, with you art directing the photoshoot to create the image for the piece. We sort of sideways talked about content, mostly through jokes. I had my own idea of the meaning of the image. I thought that through our joke about the working title, “Hot White Jesus”, that we were acknowledging the inherent historical strangeness of representing Jesus as white, and that our image – along with many historical paintings of Jesus – was also subtly sexualized or erotic. I thought there were many layers we were touching on in making that joke, acknowledging that constructing Jesus as white is ridiculous, and also that he is, in a way, an unacknowledged erotic icon. I can go off on tangents about the image. Does that resonate for you?

Daniel: When I went to Instagram and saw the painting posted for the first time, I saw it there, and I thought “oh my goodness its out in the world now” ! For me the actual content, when I started to think about it, brought together three of the things I’m most passionate about, which are Jesus, fashion, and I guess decorative chickens (we both laugh). Or perhaps small cute animals. For me I think it started in a visual place, but all of those visual things have the same heart and spirit for me; in their aesthetic and visual qualities they are things that I love so deeply.

M: So how are they linked?

D: Just the thread of my passions

M: Oh, so just that they are coexisting passions, and to have them in one image was really attractive?

D: 100%. I wanted to bring together these things that are very different, but that I love with the same intensity and fervor, that are seemingly discrepant, just to pack them all together because they all have the same source.

M: Jesus represented in paintings holding a lamb is an iconic image, so we’re touching on that visual history in this painting. Our painting also reminds me that my interest in beautiful, sculptural, overbred animals is representative of a connection to nature – how we manipulate nature – which is something I’m really interested in as a playful way to address issues of power and our relationship to the natural world. There is a link there for me with Jesus holding that chicken, a Silkie. Those kinds of fancy chickens are demonstrably a result of human interaction through breeding, to in a way “sculpt” nature.

D: I think for me too – and this is one of the things I hold most dear about our life, and something that is really fun and deep for me in spirituality – is the sacred and the profane, which for me are the exact same things, two sides of a coin. To have this overwrought chicken, and the exaggerated bow, and the super dark colors, and the light and fluffy content, it’s like good and bad, right and wrong, sexual and yet chased, all at the same time. I feel like there’s no difference. I think the way into sexuality is chastity and the way into chastity is sexuality, and the way into depth is the surface, and the way into surface, to really understand it, is to have a connection with the depth. So for me, anything I love has both sides of the coin to it. And I think subconsciously that came through in the portrait.

M: Yes, and I think what you say reminds me that in my work I often combine the ridiculous with the serious, so it makes sense to me that you were interested in having me help create a painting based on your vision, because your thoughts do really jive with my aesthetics; trying to get at serious content through really absurd images

D: Yes, and also how you paint, and how you manipulate materials, and your talent for texture, and color was definitely a no brainer for me

M: So I’m curious about one thing I’ve been thinking about with your commission and with other paintings I’ve done, but particularly with you because we did the photoshoot together. I felt aware that I was a conduit for your vision, and that while I was physically making the painting, the image itself came entirely from you, perhaps with the filter of you knowing my work. So it got me thinking that in this process someone gets to make a painting who doesn’t actually paint, which is pretty great. It also liberates me. Normally as a painter I don’t get the opportunity to have the filter of someone else’s aesthetics and ideas. That was a appealing great part for me, and it allowed me to get to a different place through our collaboration.

D: I think you hit it on the head, because I can’t paint. To be able to have you as an extension of my imagination, and to be able to bring to fruition something that I long for and desire, it’s such an amazing thing and I definitely want to do more! That was the surprise too, I thought the end product was going to be the capstone experience, and now I realize so much of it was about the process and wanting to expand upon and play upon this theme, with for example the Virgin Mary, and to do more work together since you are able to bring to life something I can only have in my head

M: Yes, and I get to be free of being responsible in a way, which is liberating.

D: That must be awesome, being a voyeur into somebody else’s imagination, into somebody’s weird Jesus-chicken fantasies (laughs)

M: Yes, and I would never have thought of this image, while it also fits with my impulses. I get to be free from thinking about the meaning, and that was part of the fun of making the image with you; I got to be guided by you, which is an interestingly privileged position I think.

D: Yes, but I have to say I think you’re a rare breed of artist who can give up that sort of control and who can help somebody achieve their vision and be engaged in a process but not lord over it.

M: I don’t know if I would have been able to at another point in my career, but I think it’s the right time, where I feel open to this. I think when I was younger I would have been more controlling, and not have seen the benefit of letting go of control. In general in life, you know, there’s a lesson in that, because for me I’ve begun to notice when I can let go of some control, things usually get better. It’s the same with the act of painting, a fine balance of control and letting the paint move like it wants to move, and being sensitive to that. It’s wonderful to let that control go.

D: From my standpoint I loved the energy and input you brought, for example putting Jeremy in the role of Jesus is something I never would have thought of because I didn’t really know him, and so to have that input was amazing

M: (Laughs) Yeah I had him pegged as a Jesus way back, but I didn’t really have an idea for a painting per se, but I did think he looked very modern “Jesus-y”. I think the interesting part of this conversation and talking to you finally is I didn’t really get that fashion, Jesus and the chicken were all separate passions, and not necessarily directly linked,

D: Yes I think they are three different branches of the bigger passion tree, and I feel like that’s my whole life, tying together all of these things that don’t really seem to make sense, but they make sense because I’m the thread,

M: And that’s enough.

D: Yeah, it is.

If you are interested in a portrait for you or your pet, please contact me using my email

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