Artist’s Focus is Carolina Scenes (November 2010)

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

By Chelsea Kellner – Staff Writer

In Portugal, Joseph Cave painted bright light falling on red earth and tiled roofs, casting crisp shadows, unfiltered by the ever-present humidity of his boyhood home in the South. On the California coast, he captured grand vistas backed by mountains, with more of that pure, clear light. But when he moved back to the Carolinas 20 years ago, his work changed. “Here, the light is much softer,” Cave said. “Painting becomes much more intimate.”

A show of Cave’s work capturing the cafes and cotton fields of North and South Carolina will open this weekend at the Adam Cave Fine Art gallery on East Hargett Street as part of the First Friday event downtown. With the galleries and restaurants of downtown Raleigh open late at the once-a-month event, Cave is one of many artists whose work art lovers can peruse by strolling the streets and watching for the First Friday flags to identify participating venues.

At Cave’s show, locals may recognize the Berkeley Cafe, painted under a blue sky with the skyscrapers of downtown in the background, or Logan’s flower market from Seaboard Station, said Adam Cave, gallery owner and the artist’s son. He also specializes in coastal scenes and floral paintings.

“It’s subject matter that people love and understand and respond to,” Adam Cave said. “It doesn’t require a master’s degree in art history to understand it.”

Cave’s style has undergone a dramatic revolution since his days as an art student at the University of Georgia in 1954. Cave started out as an abstract expressionist, working in an isolated cubicle facing a blank wall with his inner life as the only material from which to draw inspiration.

“Doing something that had never been done before was the preoccupation, but it was almost like all the doors had been opened and closed by the time I came along,” Cave said. “You were always seen to be parroting somebody who was already established.”

After a stint in the Army, Cave enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute to learn from a group called the Bay Area Figurative Painters who were gaining renown for their return to using subjects in their artwork.

“It had dawned on me that you could have more stimulation if you reverted to nature, because it’s always different and challenging,” Cave said.

Being able to paint from life was more fun, he said, especially because his abstract training had taught him how to work with only color and lines to design a compelling canvas.

Cave’s work in the Carolinas has been praised as “splendor without sentimentality” by Jim Fitch, director of the Rice Museum in Georgetown, S.C. The phrase appears in an essay Fitch penned for the first book of Cave’s paintings just published by his son’s gallery.

Cave’s work has been much collected locally in his two decades painting North Carolina. His work has hung in local restaurants and sports stadiums, as well as in private homes. Greensboro real estate developer Alex Gold owns six of Cave’s canvases. He can’t quite pinpoint what it is he loves about their depiction of scenes around Hillsborough and Apex, but in 20 years, he hasn’t tired of them.

“Picasso is out of my price range, but Joe Cave is the next best thing, as far as I’m concerned,” Gold said. “They have a depth to them I really enjoy.”


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