Los Angeles

Jay McCafferty

Cirrus Gallery Ltd.

It is difficult to look at Jay McCafferty’s solar burn collages without conjuring up metaphors of the artist as Promethean figure. With a magnifying lens as net, McCafferty captures the sun’s rays and focuses them onto grid points on the ink-washed surfaces of layered vellum paper. The paper burns, creating erratic shapes which ultimately penetrate and expose other layers. In many of the works, charred bits of painted paper have been collaged to the top layer, yielding incredibly fragile, visually seductive surfaces. The natural “destruction” of the burned paper is pulled together by the applied “construction” of the collage technique.

Unlike the solar burns of Charles Ross, which to my mind are most interesting in their revelations of natural processes, McCafferty’s collages derive their strength from the clarity of artistic decision making done in collaboration with natural forces—hence the allusion to Prometheus.

Critical discussion of McCafferty’s work has focused on the ritual properties of its making. Indeed, one can imagine the artist methodically focusing his magnifying lens on the predetermined pattern of grid points, and engaging in an anxious communion with the vagaries of fire. But I think that referring to the artist as “a sun-worshipping thaumaturge” engaged in revealing “the metaphoric interconnected condition of the universe,” as has been done, is to carry things a bit far. Ritual is, in one sense, a reenactment or statement of the mysterious that, through its very execution, establishes an uneasy alliance with the inexplicable. McCafferty’s work, however, is not at all mysterious; rather, it has a celebratory tone, an optimistic sense of mastery over materials. The sensual, exuberant colors—vivid yellows, purples, oranges—and the ex post facto adjustments made with additional collage reveal the artist to be quite happily in control of his circumstances. After all, Prometheus, as the embodiment of the mystery of lightning, was doomed to eternal torment for revealing the secrets of fire to earthly creatures. Once revealed, those mysteries became pragmatic tools. McCafferty is not engaged in deciphering the external control inherent in mystery, but in employing the internal control of mastery. This is the magic of these works.

Christopher Knight