Sara Greenberger Rafferty often works large, as she did with a multi-panel piece shown in 2016 in a group show at James Cohan Gallery, New York, that measured about three by nineteen feet. For her first solo exhibition at Document, the Brooklyn-based artist has scaled down with a group of thirty intimate, process-intensive digital photo-collages on plexiglass, none more than twenty-two by seventeen inches. The imagery, which includes pictures of comedians, desktop icons, women’s shoes, mannequins, bathroom tiles, figure drawings, faces, honeycomb patterns, and a text by Lacan, is dense and layered.
Aron Gent, who founded Document in 2011, is a master printer who specializes in digital technology. He not only exhibits artists’ work but also collaborates with them in producing it. Rafferty began the pieces in this show (all 2016) by printing imagery onto clear acetate film. After she painted on the acetate with acrylic polymers, it was mounted onto colored plexiglass, a process that results in irregularly textured, sometimes slightly bubbly surfaces.
The works hover ambiguously between photography and painting, with some veering more in one direction than the other. In Pattern 1, the photos of overlapping Band-Aids form an allover field, producing some of the most obvious and unobscured imagery. But Rafferty often uses the paint to shroud, mark, and even deface—almost graffiti-style—the imagery underneath, as she does in Pink Picture 1, with its twin stills of Joan Rivers hosting “The Tonight Show.” Even after one has an understanding of Rafferty’s working methods, it can be difficult to determine how she achieves certain effects, enhancing the elusive nature of her imagery.
Little is overt or direct in these works. Rafferty tends to provide only snippets, glimpses, and shadows. A good example is Fly Paper 1. (It is one of two similar compositions; the artist likes to offer multiple takes on the same imagery.) The top of a sunglass-ed woman’s face appears behind a white rectangle printed like wallpaper with flies and overlaid with black schematic lines. White splotches and a craquelure effect across the top of the composition as well as the bleeding of the rectangle’s whiteness into the blurry gray background give the work the look of a vintage photograph that has been somehow damaged over time.
Rafferty frequently portrays elements of domestic life (cans of food, bathrooms) and elements of pop culture. Other themes include injury and death. The former is referenced, for example, in the three related Band-Aid pieces and in a haunting all-black, monochromatic work titled Wound Picture, and the latter is suggested by a menacing noose, almost unseen behind washes of white paint, in an untitled piece. Although Rafferty keeps specific meanings or conclusions just out of reach in her works, the engrossing clues and conflicting moods she evokes—from bemusement to unease—provide reward enough.