Andy Kane is standing in front of City Night, a large horizontal painting done almost entirely in black and white that shows a rat flying over the city of Chicago. Within the giant rat's body are several animal and human creatures, and beneath it are grids of building windows; the rat clutches a small humanoid figure in its claws.
One night Kane, who has long been afraid of rats, saw one running along the baseboard of his room at the residential hotel where he lived. He began the painting that night. "I had no choice," he says. "I had to." A nightmarish image, it expresses his feelings that "the rats . . . were not just taking over . . . in my room but the rats were running a lot of the world too--people rats."
Kane, 38, was raised in the New York City area. Though he comes from an educated family--he remembers his father as speaking seven languages--Kane is a high school drop-out. Largely self-taught, he attended two arts schools for no more than a few weeks each. He's traveled around the U.S. and Europe, held odd jobs, and was homeless between 1986 and 1988 in Boston, where he was a leader of a protest encampment on the steps of the state capitol. His 1992 painting Homeless shows a man sleeping outdoors, a building full of happier figures behind him. The homeless man's blue face clashes violently with the intense warmer colors of the rest of the scene. "Blue is cold," Kane comments, and his colors' intensity suggests a firsthand experience.
Kane has been making pictures since elementary school; when he was about eight, he was encouraged when one was put in a school show. "It was of the George Washington Bridge," he explains, "and a diver and the bridge being blown up with TNT." Even as a child, he had an outsider's oppositional view of society's institutions, which came in part from observing his father's continual financial difficulties. "I saw my dad suffer a lot," he says, "but he never sold out." Kane remembers a childhood of frequent moves and multiple car repossessions. "I'd often have to tell creditors that my dad wasn't home," says Kane, when he was in fact hiding within.
When Kane was 21, he was hawking his paintings on the streets of New York, but making almost no sales until Robert Bishop, director of the nearby Museum of American Folk Art, happened by. Bishop was impressed enough to buy a painting for himself, and introduced Kane to a dealer, who soon bought all of his work. But the dealer had typed him as a "folk artist," Kane says, and when he changed styles the dealer lost interest. Kane was soon broke again.
At its best Kane's work combines his oppositional attitude with inner complexity. Self-Portrait as Alien shows a large head in profile, disembodied eyes at the front and rear, multiple lines around the face. The head "became like a battlefield . . . it's all that goes on inside a person." Though a self-portrait, the work also recalled for me Kane's comment on his father: "I saw the complexities of a person, how he could be divided for and against himself." The crisscross lines seem to be pulling the face apart, recalling Kane's belief that art is "organized anarchy. . . . It's disorder and order."
Kane's paintings, prints, and custom-made ties and T-shirts are on display and for sale at Enid Okla Homa, 233 W. Huron, through August 10. Hours are Friday and Saturday 10:30 to 5, and by appointment; call 787-6011 for more.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bruce Powell.