Renowned Abstractionist Colors his own Intellectualism in Broad Strokes

thought of the operating principles,” says Ian M Cage. Photo by Tim Robison.

“People relate to my work … without thought of the operating principles,” says Ian M Cage. Photo by Tim Robison.

In 1987, Hendersonville artist Ian M Cage was traveling in Europe when he was struck by a life-changing experience. Fascinated with the colors, smells, and tastes of French and Spanish culture, Cage underwent what he once described as a “fusing of my visual and intuitive senses as they related to my external environment.”

It was as though he suddenly had developed a direct, visceral connection between some inner creative spirit and the color, form, and geometry of the world around him. The immediate result was a dedication to an artistic career — at first as a supplement to his working life as an information-technology specialist, and then as a full-time occupation.

“We all have our own innate fluency in how we see images, whether or not we’re educated in the arts,” Cage says about his transformative experience. “I trust that natural process.”

Cage’s work in a variety of media — encompassing acrylics, polymer-based paint, and digital forms — is at once visually audacious, structurally complex, and intellectually challenging. Abstract shapes splashed with garrulous color, intricately worked geometrical designs, flourishes of black slashing down the canvas, are all drawn from theories of form and hue Cage developed that bear names like “Cagian Color Dynamics,” “Orders of Abstraction,” and “The New Modern.” It may not be helpful in understanding Cage’s work to read his own description, once offered to an interviewer, where he tossed around such terms as “medial abstractionist” and peppered his responses with quotes from Nietzsche and Karl Marx.

Ian Cage's symbolic script, “Cagian-Beta,” on the wall at his studio. Photo by Tim Robison.

Ian Cage’s symbolic script, “Cagian-Beta,” on the wall at his studio. Photo by Tim Robison.

More accessible is his website’s artist’s statement about basing his work on sculpture-like imagery that occupies the territory between pure abstraction and experimental figurative art, with an emphasis on form and color. “I hope people would feel energized and curious when seeing my work,” Cage says, “and that the colors and composition would stir inspiration upon initial viewing and, over time, a ‘love born of slow comprehension,’ as the Spanish artist Joan Miró stated.”

It didn’t seem so complex when, growing up in Minneapolis, Cage was regularly taken by his mother to exhibits at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Walker Art Center, the latter becoming a favorite because of its substantial holdings in modern art. He was particularly attracted to the work of New York School artists such as Robert Motherwell, Frank Stella, and Brice Marden, who all explored the outer limits of formal composition and form, and whose work is echoed in Cage’s canvases.

“I’ve always resonated strongly with abstract thinking artists,” Cage once told the art critic Deborah Fitzgerald. “They’re the ones who have written about their work and its development.”

Cage, too, has produced written explanations of his work, most recently the dauntingly titled Linguistics Of MetaModern Abstraction, a discourse on the artistic language he employs in developing the four broad categories of his output. There’s his “Structural Abstraction” series, for example — a collection of acrylic paintings of geometrically-inspired abstract forms which feature what the artist calls “the Cagian element,” a vertically elongated rectangle he says came to him on a New Jersey golf course one day in 1986, when he swiped his foot in a sand trap and studied the resulting impression.

Composition 148

Composition 148

There’s his “Beta” series, also in acrylic and often using cardboard or paper as the substrate, that showcases elements of an original script Cage developed which he calls “Cagian-Beta.” Recalling ancient runes, the series helpfully includes a syllabary linking each symbol (or Cagerbit) with its English-language equivalent. (One of these work’s runic lines, when translated, reads, “I am here to say that the way to get from point A to point B is a line.”) A hint of the influential artists who’ve inspired Cage can be found in a separate collection of “Articons” — a Cagian version of emoticons that represent, among others, Van Gogh, Picasso, Mondrian and Twombly.

“Structural Abstraction” gathers together Cage’s exploration of common elements of line and form used by the abstract expressionists, which Cage redeploys into more rigorously conceived compositions with hints of Cubist art; while the “Workbench” series is Cage’s more experimental collection, more playful and spontaneous than his other work.

Among its inclusion in various major holdings, Cage’s art can be found in the permanent collection of the new Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum in his native Minneapolis, where it hangs beside works by Picasso and Paul Klee. “I find that most people who collect and support my art relate to the work immediately, without thought of the operating principles,” he says. This is especially true of the “Inference” series, which he considers the most accessible of his output. And Cage is more than eager to help others develop their own talents with his ArtExplore classes, held at his Hendersonville studio.

“It’s an amazingly fun discovery class for people wanting to develop their artistic career,” Cage says, “or to simply expand their lives through uncovering their creative natures.”

View Ian M Cage’s work online and learn more about his theories at Find out details about his ArtExplore classes by e-mailing him at

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