Take life head - on, gently; This is what David Cation does with his paint on canvas. His body of work revolves around the human condition, exploring what he calls, "the communal aloneness" of the city with his cut-to-the-quick humanist approach.
The figures are reflective,solemn and often in desperate need of the artist and viewer's care. They evoke the urban theatre of tensions with its clash of sympathy and disdain, charity and competition, energy and fatigue. The street-level narratives are rife with the duality of the moment: Does that person need help or is he just a strung out junkie? ...is she comforting or strangling him? ... helping him up or pushing him down? We are asked to evaluate and remember
our reactions.
Cation paints, not as the observer, but as one who has run through life's uncut trails and been dragged down by its barbed undergrowth. Nevertheless, he remains resilient and cautiously enamoured of life. He takes on the world, face to face, at a human scale or bigger, placing himself as the arbiter of equal or lesser importance than his subjects. His figures are rarely smaller than himself. His hand and mind are not comfortable making diminutive the stories and perceptions of others. His brush digs into the chaos of his characters with nervousness.
With his paintings of skulls, Cation lifts the blatant and hackneyed tattoo symbolism to another plane. The morbid crania are painted in vibrant colours and lively strokes, like some caustic advertisement for The Gap: "Death is everywhere. It's a way of life, a community experience". Cation's paintings of anonymous wrestlers evoke a strange discomfort. It is though, the subject has engaged himself with an opponent or force that he would normally flee, but for the base attraction of the fight or the proposition of connection with another human. We feel both threat and intrigue, repulsion and seduction.
The junkies, the lost youth, the tired workers are the players in this push-pull spectacle called society. They pose the questions and are the questions. The issues raised by David Cation are not easy, but nor are they sensationalised. This is the gentle reflection and genuflection of an artist before the trials of life.

In review of David Cations work displayed in solo exhibitions Skull Paintings at
The Carl Davis Gallery and Monkeys, Junkies, Martyrs and Flunkies at The Ottawa School
of Art. March 1999.

Kirk Finken is an Ottawa writer and curator.