Amidst the arctic tundra swirling outside, constant media reminders of our country’s uneasy political future, and the fact that there is a Starbucks in the heart of the Chelsea gallery district with disturbingly tasteful art on the walls, Fergus McCaffrey Gallery on 26th and 10th Avenue feels like a refuge. There’s no doubt that this feeling comes, in large part, from Jack Early’s towering bright canvases and sculptures displayed for one of his first New York solo shows in almost 20 years. The ex-lover and collaborator of artist Rob Pruitt, Early left the art scene in the 90s after an exhibition and the relationship went sour, thinking he’d never return.
Now, years later, Early’s solo show brings a personal story of growing up gay in the South into a new light. With paintings of melting popsicles and scantily clad men posing with sly grins or a canvas soft sculpture printed with Early’s childhood image surrounded by many plushy hamsters, the North Carolina-born artist depicts a homoerotic Americana that is so bright and joyous, it seems almost PG (despite the photo-realistic cocks). We spoke with Early about the childhood themes behind his radiant exhibition, the moment that brought him back to art, and how despite the changes and uncertainty around us, things can still manage to look pretty bright.