Jim Drain emerged from the early 2000s RISD scene as an inhabitant of Fort Thunder, a wildly punk, graphically brash space where medium-conflating art (comics, puppetry, sculpture, noise/punk music) flowed furiously in a flood of bright colors. Drain now lives in Miami, where his hues flirt with the neons of the beach, his installations and sculptures finding placement in institutions rather than punk houses.
His most recent exhibition, “Drain Expressions,” at the West Hollywood gallery PRISM, is a departure from Drain’s usual diet of installation and sculpture. It is a concise exhibition of transportable weaved canvas paintings, a series of humorous Op Art posters promoting the very exhibition, a giant 3-D leopard-print wallpaper collage, and a series of paintings made from rubbing the word “DRAIN” off a manhole. Everything is a wall piece. “I was talking to another artist who has done sculpture and paintings, too,” Drain tells me over the phone from his Miami studio. “He said, ‘Why don’t you do paintings?’ I was like, ‘Painting has a different history,’ and that there were all these variables that kept me from doing it. It’s like Odie and Garfield. Odie gets beat up all the time and bounces back. At some point I said, ‘I’m just going to do this and see where it goes, and not see it as a cynical Garfield thing.’”
Drain conceived much of the exhibition at a residency in his old hometown of Providence, which provided the autumnal color palette found in the work. “I was painting with these pigments that my girlfriend, [artist] Naomi Fisher, had recommended. We were doing all these color studies as the trees started changing color. I would walk outside after having worked with lavender all day, and find lavender in the landscape.”
Making the work as wall-pieces allowed Drain “a really intense focus on pattern and surface, instead of trying to tackle everyone at once.” For “Drain Expressions,” Drain’s ultimate alignment falls squarely on the shoulders of Sol Lewitt, not only in the bright patterns of the image on the wall, but in the ability for Lewitt to push the boundaries of the canvas. It’s hard to walk into PRISM without feeling like Lewitt’s ghost is standing in the corner, nodding approvingly. But there’s a distinct ragged edge to Drain, an earnest straightforwardness that borders on urgent, that sets him apart.