Critics’ Picks

View of “Jerry Kearns: RRRGGHH!!!” 2014.

New York

Jerry Kearns

Mike Weiss Gallery
520 West 24th Street
June 26 - August 23

KNOCK KNOCK. Jerry Kearns’s latest show beats down its own door and invades the gallery walls with acid-colored expressions printed in large-scale comic-book bubble letters. Their onomatopoeic allusions—SKREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!—vibrate, animating the space and engulfing one in the narrative that unfolds in five wall murals and eight large paintings. The show simultaneously flattens and disbands Kearns’s layered, nuanced so-called psychological Pop paintings, which build on the American Pop tradition of painting begun by Roy Lichtenstein. Combining screenprinting and handpainting, the works bizarrely fuse American twentieth-century imagery relating to hero/villain archetypes, Christian zealotry, the Wild West, and the Bronze Age of comics. Our protagonist, Jesus, is rendered here as a campy, crown-of-thorns-bearing savior, galloping from one scene to another on horseback. Dressed as a slightly ditzy cowboy, he hopelessly confronts tricky, goblin-like outlaws—always, it appears, on the brink of ambush as he looks the wrong way.

The characterization of Jesus as semihero in an American Hero’s clothing speaks to the paradox of a Bible Belt mentality that celebrates Christian values of Good Shepherd peace and simultaneously parades violent ideals such as free gun commerce. Building on Kearns’s ongoing exploration of soft and hard power dynamics as well as gender stereotypes, these new works intertwine historic paradigms of American masculinity, the tomboyish aesthetics of 1970s animation, and the covert manipulation of “sublime landscape” paintings (which, as Kearns has noted, were originally produced as propaganda for notions of Manifest Destiny). Here, Kearns compels us to interrogate the ethics undergirding societal values using the age-old carrot-and-stick strategy: on one hand deploying subtle overlapping of culturally charged imagery that rewards deeper analysis, and on the other hand leveling us with the punch of cartoonlike murals that blast aggressive afterimages into viewers’ minds.