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Provincetown :: Thursday, March 30th 2017

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Notes from Land’s End

An Interview with Jay Critchley

January 31st, 2015

One of the qualities that make Provincetown’s art colony so unique is the large number of people involved in cross disciplines. Painters act, writers play an instrument and artists with outside-the-box thinking thrive. Jay Critchley, conceptual artist, provocateur and creator of the astonishing fundraiser/performance piece Swim for Life, is a testament to artist of multiple mediums.

We are all an accumulation of all that has gone on before us.

This roving reporter caught up with Critchley at his artistic, funky home and studio. Today, a pile of Christmas trees awaits a decision: to use them or not in an upcoming piece. In his space are sculptures, paintings and references to his Catholic upbringing. We sit at a vintage table on a wavy wooden-planked floor for this interview:

Q: You are the embodiment of a multi-disciplined working artist. The Swim for Life and Paddler Flotilla, for example, is a masterwork. In its 28th year, it has an iconic ritual that represents Provincetown as a nurturing community and has raised 3 million dollars for non-profits. Is it also art?

A: I would say that the Swim for Life, this year on September 12th, is a performance piece. The harbor is activated in a way that color and light and attention is brought to a particular place. Each year the hats are a different color, the kayaks bring more color and everyone is a participant. Whether they are in the water, or out of the water, or a whale showing up, they are participating and it’s choreographed.
Rerooters, Critchley’s annual New York interactive performance includes chanting to such songs at the Twelve Days of Stockpiling. It centers on a dry Christmas tree in a floating box, filled with peoples’ objects that represent a release from the past (cigarettes, a bra to mark surviving breast cancer). Dressed in ceremonial regalia, Critchley brings the tree into the harbor and lights it. Watching it drifting out to sea, all the participants feel lighter by the act of shedding of a burden or sorrow in the frigid cold air.

Q: There is always a formal spirituality in the work that you do, like wearing an elaborate headdress at both the Swim for Life and ReRooters.

A: I want to say that I was a good altar boy. There were eight brothers and sisters, a very strict Roman Catholic family. We are all an accumulation of all that has gone on before us.

Q: How long have you been working at your art?

A: Over thirty years, beginning with the Sand Encrusted Cars.

Q. You have a survey coming up at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum this May and June. It’ll be a combination of all kinds of things - sculpture, video?

A: Oh yes, it’ll be everything under the sun. The show’s curator Bob Bailey is working with me on this. There is a lot of work; videos, documentation and ephemera. It’s been a really incredible process working with him to hone down what really is the essence of the various projects. So, it will be divided up into stations.
This show at PAAM is the first time my work has been all put together in one place. Provincetown Arts is publishing a catalogue for the event and for sale in bookstores and online.

Writer Laura Shabott is a correspondent for The Provincetown Banner, the creator of the online column Notes from Land’s End and contributor to the culture magazine Artscope.

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