Jac Lahav: The Saffron Thief

Art Spiel Photo Story

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Jac Lahav, Immersive blue vine installation on the hardship and beauty of being a foster parent

Jac Lahav: The Saffron Thief at Sugarlift is an immersive installation about the artist’s experience as a foster parent. At the center, a large sculpture titled 29, references 29 points of contact that the artist has had with different foster children. The lines of saffron and gold leaf across abstracted canvases, and a site-specific wall drawing allure visitors to enter Lahav’s world.

Like many other artists, Lahav’s studio practice and artwork shifted in the last few years. In Lahav’s case, family life metamorphosed too—they decided to become licensed foster parents in 2020. Lahav says they began this foster journey for semi selfish reasons, namely, to have a second child. For years they have been trying to have children and failed, “this represented another nail in the coffin of linear mainstream family storylines”, as he puts it. They finally decided that perhaps foster care was a viable alternative for their nurturing energy. “We filled out copious amounts of paperwork, attended infinite zoom trainings, and watched archaic governmental videos about good parenting,” he recalls. They became licensed foster parents in 2021 and currently are caring for an infant who has been with them since he was four months old. “It’s hard, emotional, and wonderful labor all at once and I’m constantly shocked at the heart’s ability to generate love and gain strength,” Lahav says.

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Jac Lahav, installation view

During the early days of COVID Lahav began to make paintings inspired by his painting palettes. These atmospheric abstracts are meditations on surface and subtly layered textures. Lahav says the quality of paint is one of the most important elements in transforming an object into an artwork and separates it from a reproducible online image.

Some of the works that began as meditations on surface, texture, and color, ended with painted broken “cracks” that divide the surface much like Barnett Newman’s Zip paintings. Lahav’s earliest abstracts from 2020 primarily rely upon 24k gold leaf. He compares it to the use of precious metals in Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. These layered paintings reference finding beauty within hardship. In recent work, Lahav uses more eccentric materials such as sand from a local beach near the birthplace of their foster child, or vibrant red ground up saffron, which harkens back to Lahav’s love of cooking and to childhood memories, the smells of spices around his grandmother’s house in Tel Aviv.


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Jac Lahav, installation view

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world rivaling gold in price per ounce. Its excessive cost is due to the laborious process of cultivating the fine strands from the intensely purple crocus flower. It also has narcotic effects as was well known in ancient times. With their purple stained fingers, the crokers – named after the saffron crocus flowers they pick – must take frequent breaks lest they become too giddy. The rarity of the plant, its laborious processing, and mysterious qualities are in counterpoint to parenting.

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Jac Lahav, Blue Horizon

Last year Lahav learned of the term “alloparenting”. It is defined as parenting someone who is not your direct offspring. This is much more common in todays society than we are led to believe. Lahav asks: “What does it mean to care for someone who isn’t of your blood? Why does our culture mythologize nuclear families and genetic relatives while in reality, most families are found in one’s community?” In this exhibition, Lahav suggests that like saffron, cultivation of social ties is what truly binds us together, giving us the strength to build a better tomorrow. 

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Jac Lahav, Vessel Arborus, 11x15x5 inch, paper mache and mixed media,2022

All photos courtesy of the artist and Sugarlift

Jac Lahav: The Saffron Thief at Sugarlift through February 11, 2023