Jac Lahav: The Saffron Thief

Jan 12, 2023 - Feb 11, 2023

New York, NY


Sugarlift is pleased to present Jac Lahav: The Saffron Thief, on view from January 12, 2023 to February 11, 2023. An opening reception will take place at Sugarlift Gallery from 6 pm to 8 pm on the evening of January 12. 

Deeply rooted in Lahav’s personal narrative as a foster parent, The Saffron Thief brings together various pillars of the artist’s practice into one cohesive, whimsical installation. Blue felt vines and leaves emerge from a large vessel sculpture to envelop the room, lines of saffron and gold leaf dance across abstracted canvases, and a site-specific wall drawing beckons the viewer further inside this world of the artist’s creation. 

Active as an artist, curator, and community organizer, change and innovation are at the heart of Lahav’s work. Life-altering moments have made mark-changing impacts. Most recently, their practice has been energized by the decision to become a foster parent, for which they were approved in 2021. About the process of foster care, the artist says, “This is hard, emotional, and wonderful labor all at once. I'm constantly shocked at the heart's ability to generate love and gain strength.” It is in the studio where Lahav processes the full range of these emotions into a wonderful mosaic of aesthetic and eccentric works. 

Parallel to fostering, Lahav rediscovered a passion for plant life during pandemic quarantine, and especially for the lessons that cultivating plants can teach us about alternative forms of nurturing. The multi-vine organic forms that extend throughout the gallery reflect Lahav’s reverence for the non-linearity of existence: 

“Our culture is obsessed with the idea that human life must follow a linear progression, or we can use an analogy, like climbing a ladder. You care for the plant and it will get bigger and bigger. We are taught since childhood that we must progressively achieve as we “grow up”, in everything from career to family. Yet plants show us that life is not a ladder, it's more of a messy road trip. Sometimes you need to drive backwards to get gas, sometimes you need to take a detour and discover a whole new civilization.” 

Specifically, the title and artwork in this exhibition nod to the saffron plant, the purple crocus from which saffron spice is cultivated. Rivaling gold in cost per ounce, saffron’s cost is due in part to the arduous process involved in cultivating fine strands from the intensely purple crocus flower. Further complicating that process, saffron has mysterious narcotic effects, well-documented in ancient times. With purple-stained fingers, the crokers - named for the flowers they pick - must take frequent breaks to prevent excessive giddiness. In The Saffron Thief, Lahav contrasts the rarity of the plant, its laborious cultivation process, and its mysterious mood boosting qualities - all as allusions to parenting, specifically the artist’s recent journey as a foster parent.

More well-known in past years for figurative portraits in series like 48 Jews (currently on view at the Jewish Museum  NY) and The Great Americans (to be exhibited at the Slater Art Museum 2023), Lahav delved into abstraction for the first time around 2019 and has since embraced a language of abstraction tied heavily to material and surface. In The Saffron Thief, abstract paintings are threaded with 24k gold leaf and powdered saffron. These materials - and the pervasive blue throughout - harken back to the artist’s childhood visits to his grandmother’s house on the mediterranean sea, a home filled with plants, superstitious evil-eyes, and fragrant spices. In the time since Lahav became a foster parent, abstract painting has come to represent the emotional processing that comes with the complex nature of foster care. Characteristically, Lahav’s installation is layered with meaning that coexists with the strong visual impact of the work itself. Concept and aesthetics are expertly balanced. 

Yet despite all of this meaning and allegory, part of the charm of Lahav’s work is that the viewer need not have all the backstory  at hand to appreciate the work. To enter into The Saffron Thief is to immerse oneself in a sea of blue, an otherworldly feast of mixed-media artwork which divulges both playful and serious details moment-to-moment. Understanding the symbolism and processed emotion behind each piece only deepens the viewer’s understanding of the installation, adding texture to an already rich visual experience. 

Note: Jac Lahav is an advocate for foster care in CT. If you are interested in learning more about fostering in NYC please contact the WISH Line at 877-676-WISH (9474). 

8" x 7"
11" x 7"
15" x 11"
6" x 4"
Jac Lahav
Optimus, 2022
9" x 6"
86" x 61.5"
14" x 11"
60" x 48"