Art Matters Featuring Douglas H. Caves Sr.

by Susan Sherrill Axelrod



View Douglas Caves' latest work




Doug Caves’ paintings cover a wide range of subjects: bright summer scenes on the Maine coast; moody winter landscapes; and classic New England barns and houses. His technique shifts with his subject matter; for example, “October Light, Wells, ME” captures a small-town streetscape in Norman Rockwell-like detail—down to the texture of the tires on the red Jeep in the foreground—while “Hill in Winter” is softer and more impressionistic. This is of course deliberate, the result of Caves’ long experience as an artist, and the joy he finds in his work.


“I love to paint, I’ve always loved paint, and there’s so many ways to use paint. I refuse to be buttonholed into a particular style,” he says. “There is a sensibility about the image that I want to get by applying different techniques to achieve a different end result. Sometimes I want the brushwork to show—that whole process of getting the paint onto the canvas in a very direct, expedient, tactile manner—and I want that to be part of what the painting’s about. And then sometimes I want to disappear with the image. I want it to have a smooth, flat surface—you don’t see the process so much.”


Early in his career, Caves painted abstracts and used oils. He has since found far more inspiration in landscapes, and about a decade ago decided to make the switch to acrylics. “I can do just about everything in acrylics I can do with oils and acrylics dry faster. Which means I can add layers on sooner,” he says. “The process keeps getting more defined and more sculpted, and so I keep trying to make sure that I’m keeping my mind open enough to discover.” 


During our interview, he shows me what he’s working on—a muted winter scene with a butter-yellow New England farmhouse by the side of a snow and mud-covered country road. Caves is fascinated by New England architecture, and his paintings often juxtapose the stark lines of a house or barn against the softer lines and curves of a landscape. “I’m really concerned about the overall texture and depth of that two-dimensional surface,” he says. One of the biggest complaints about acrylic paint is that it’s flat, it’s dead; it has no life to it. I disagree with that. By using your mediums properly you can develop a luminosity to the color and to the surface. I’ve been playing with the juxtaposition of flat areas to more luminous, transparent layers, and how they bump up against each other and what happens when they bump up against each other visually, and how we respond to that.” 


Caves starts his studio days before dawn. “Lately I’ve been listening to Pablo Casals’ Bach Cello Suites; having music in the background is an important part of the process,” he says. “Another is switching his focus to other tactile projects; Caves and his wife are currently reupholstering wingback chairs. “When you’re in that process of making a painting and you have that place where you want to go with it, you have to grow as the painting grows. And sometimes you don’t grow fast enough, so you have to take a little time off, but you’ve got all this energy, so you have to go do something else.”


Even after studying painting in college, Caves wasn’t sure which direction to take. “Eventually I just decided, well, I have to paint, and now I think every day I just want to be a better painter, and what that means changes over time, and every painting is another milestone on that journey. That’s why my mantra is “exploration, process, and invention.”





Learn more about this artist:


Available artwork


Radio Maine podcast interview


Art Matters blog article


Off The Wall magazine Q&A