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Born and raised in New Orleans, Jo Cain studied at the Chicago Academy of Art and at the Art Students League in New York. Through the years he painted a variety of subjects, but one of his favorites was the street life of his native city. Representations of New Orleans provide the subject for many of his earliest paintings, as well as late works like "Miss Willie's Revisited", which shows the "parlor" of one of the city's more famous bordellos. Other memories of New Orleans include two views of "St. Louis #3", one of its historic cemeteries; "House with Cornstalk Fence"; "Queen of the Mardi Gras"; and "Peep Show". In the 1930s Cain's work became increasingly abstract. The apparent flatness of his compositions, together with the sense of movement achieved by the manipulation of overlapping color planes and perspective, are characteristics of a style described in 1939 as "decorative expressionism." Cain's paint is usually thickly applied, and while his dancers, harlequins and ladies of the evening owe their inspiration to Matisse and other modernists, as one critic observed, his work "has a fresh vision that cannot be clearly traced either to contemporary American or French schools. His world is never dirty, mean or gray, but it is always bright and luminous" (Stanley Lothrop, Boyer Galleries, New York, 1939).
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