It’s hard for Zoo Cain to sneak around the city. People tend to know where he is.
Folks know if Cain is uptown, out of town or home at his St. John Valley neighborhood apartment. That’s because his truck screams in a kaleidoscopic riot of hand-painted color and knicknacks. It announces his whereabouts, wherever he goes. It’s like a visual trumpet, heralding his movements.
“I just thought it would be somewhat interesting,” Cain said, sitting outside his apartment, under a tree festooned with found lobster buoys. “But I have police officers stopping and taking pictures of it. Actually, people are taking pictures of it, going down the highway — always waving, tooting.”
People flash him a lot of peace signs, too. He loves that.
Cain’s vehicle started out as a normal, 2007 Toyota Tacoma truck before he got started on it, two years ago.
“The truck ended up being painted only because anything I’ve ever owned, or been around, ends up with paint on it,” he said. “I end up coloring just about everything I have — hammers, screwdrivers, you name it. It always gets colored.”
Cain, 65, said his love of color goes back to his childhood, growing up in Portland. He loved coloring books and his mother was drawn to chrome and shining, bright hues. He wasn’t exposed to much art, though.
“When I actually saw artwork, in my early 20s, when I was exposed to it, I thought, ‘Whoa, I’ve been doing this all along. I’m an artist,’” he remembered.
Since then, Cain has worked nonstop. Living in town for the last 40-odd years, he estimates he has completed over 10,000 works of art. Most of his output shouts with color, often in intricate, repeating geometric patterns. Other work comes from found objects splashed with gobs of layered paint.
Cain has had help painting his truck. It’s a shared experience. At least 15 other artists have lent their talents to his metal and rubber-tired canvas.
“That kind of goes with who we are as people, anyway,” he said. “We’re not just an individual. We’re everything that ever happened to us — all the people in our lives.”
That philosophy is reflected on the hood and doors where portraits of his mother, his wife, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Jesus Christ can be seen.
“If they wonder what I’m doing with the truck and all the other work, they’re all about celebration of life,” Cain said. “You know, just the exuberance of what is going on this summer and what happens in the winter, all the time. Mother Earth is just flowing with life and all I am doing is like, ‘Wow, wow. Are you kidding me?’”
Though he’s retirement age, Cain has no plans to stop creating art anytime soon. He’s a newlywed again, he’s kicked booze and refined sugar and he regularly runs around Baxter Boulevard. He said he finally feels free.
But even when he’s done here, on Earth, he still plans to create in the afterlife.
“When I pass away I’m going to get the job assignment to paint rainbows,” he said, only half-joking.