Critics’ Picks: Jack Early, Fergus McCaffrey, New York

March 4, 2016

In the center of a large star-spangled podium is a yellow phonograph, its title painted out in black letters across the front: “Jack Early’s Life Story in Just Under 20 Minutes!” The tune that plays from this 2014 work is a slapstick jazz number, spoken by the artist, about growing up gay during the Nixon administration in Raleigh, North Carolina. Early’s solo exhibition here is an autobiographical, Technicolor-drenched journey into a childhood that was a little bit sweet and a little bit saccharine, with a whole lot of sexy roiling just beneath.

In Jack, Mr. Early and Friends, 2016, thirty canvas gerbils surround a soft sculptural self-portrait of the artist as a nine-year-old, watching a plush television beside his pets, a fish and a cat (the kitty’s name: Mr. Early). Nearby are the paintings Push Up and Yellow Popsicle (both 2015), depicting the titular summertime treats shiny and dripping, in electric tones of canary and tangerine. Behind each pop is the toy-soldier wallpaper that covered the walls of the artist’s late-’60s, early-’70s bedroom. One feature, however, has been changed—Early altered the pattern to depict two male soldiers holding hands, transforming banal suburban decor into maps of prepubescent wish fulfillment and desire.

But then Jack takes a turn toward the nasty! In the paintings Hog Rider and Tubes and Pubes (both 2015), respectively, a man in assless leather chaps straddles a vintage motorbike, while another man in stripy white tube socks fiddles with his underwear to give us a show. Early’s returned to his youth—erotically, wistfully, hilariously—to claim what he couldn’t the first time around.