Edward Raffel: A Rollicking Romp through the Looking Glass, at BAYarts

Gallery view, Analog Man in a Digital World. Photo by Erin O’Brien.

It is all but impossible to capture Ed Raffel’s work, unless you’re standing directly in front of it. When you do, his work will capture you.

It will capture you honestly. It will capture you and several dozen of your twins, even if you have no siblings. It will capture you upside down, methodically fragmented, and sometimes sharing the space with candy-colored tiles. Perhaps most appropriately, Raffel’s work will capture you via mirror image, both figuratively and metaphorically, again and again.

Aficionados of the weird and wonderful have only been able to sample Raffel’s work in bite-size pieces over the years. He mixed it up at 2731 Prospect in 2018, and has had installations in the annual Rooms To Let exhibitions, including one that garnered the attention of Smithsonian Magazine. In addition, Raffel has participated in an array of area shows, including Self Image II in Sandusky earlier this year, The Air Show at Doubting Thomas in 2022, and Tangents at Artists Archives of the Western Reserve last fall. In 2021 Raffel unveiled a major installation at Tinnerman Lofts, 1040 Extended, which features plastic wine glasses and ping pong balls. His new solo show, Analog Man in a Digital World, however, on view April 12 – May 3 at BAYarts, is total immersion.

The show’s defiance of our ubiquitous smartphone cameras’ ability to capture its magic lends itself to the title. It includes some twenty new works that will delight and transfix you, including several that reflect your image both as a perfect duplicate and an impossible trick, which is exactly the point.

“If you’re at the right distance—if you’re about three or four feet away—you’ll see about 100 of yourself,” notes Raffel of one of his curious creations. “It’s dependent on the observer. The camera really doesn’t do it very well.”

While the show is replete with opportunities for unique mirror selfies, it goes well beyond reflection. Flable Lamp with Stanchion Ropes features a salvaged bowling ball dressed up as Saturn and sequestered behind a lush twist of turquoise rope, complete with a hearty side of jellybeans. In She’s Watching You, he revisits the ping-pong-ball-and-wine-glass technique from the Tinnerman Lofts installation. Large Extravaganza with Bundt Pan echoes those yarn god’s eyes you made as a kid. It also includes mirrors (it’s almost as if Raffel can’t resist the device), with an elaborate Bundt pan as a pupil and a faux fur component Barbarella would envy. Big Fun is an homage to Steve Presser and his legendary institution on Coventry.

Detail, Whatever Happened To All the Fun in the World, Male Symbol, including reflection of the artist. Photo by Erin O’Brien.

Amid all the treats are a handful of tricks. Case in point: Could there be anything better than a frosted layer cake rotating upon a dubious hypnotist’s disk, appropriately titled The Seldom Seen Chocolate Cake Illusion? Certainly not.

“It’s plastic,” says the artist of the cake, because of course it is. Raffel relishes his every joke and you will too. After all, you’re in on it, all of it, whether you like it or not. And odds are, you’ll like it.

“Your brain does not see absolutes,” says Raffel of this romp through the looking glass. “It just sees these relative relationships and makes assessments and sort of computes a picture. You know what I mean?”

Maybe, but does it matter? I mean, can I just forget about what make this stuff work for now? The entire show feels like some combination of the Krazy Kastle from the county fair’s midway and the best part of that one seventh grade field trip to the science museum. To that end, the madness behind Raffel’s work isn’t madness at all. It’s all the stuff the museum guy in the shirtsleeves and tie rattled off while you grew delightfully dizzy watching the spinning optic circles before reluctantly shuffling off to the mammal display. But when Raffel stands amid his quirky creations talking about “maximally packed tessellations” and the Zöllner illusion, he’s no droning docent.

“The eye-brain system is easily fooled,” he says. “There’s so many optical illusions and they all just trick your brain into thinking something’s happening that’s not happening.”

Please, these installations beg, let me fool you. And I promise: you will oblige.

To summarize, I’ll let the artist describe his latest efforts; Raffel calls all of this the “intersection of science and fun.”

And if this isn’t exactly what we need right now, I’m not sure what is. So leave the unspeakable headlines behind. Gussy yourself up in that gold dress (or is it blue?), and get to BAYarts before this one disappears.

Edward Raffel: Analog Man in a Digital World

April 12 – May 3, 2024


28795 Lake Road
Bay Village, Ohio 44140

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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