Jerry Kearns, BLAM!!!
FROSCH & CO
May 1 – June 6, 2021
By ROBERT C. MORGAN May, 2021
Although Jerry Kearns began as a sculptor on the west coast many years ago, his career abruptly changed upon coming to New York in the early seventies. Since then, he has been a devoted painter for the major part of his highly recognized career. His paintings are like none others; that is, like none others I have seen. He calls them “Psychological Pop” – an apt verbal (and visual) appraisal of what he does and how he thinks about his complex subject matter in the process of painting.
Upon entering Frosch & Co on the lower East side, visitors will more than likely recognize the reference to Pop Art. But then the question might arise – What does this have to do with psychology? How does psychology relate to this series of paintings, most of which are babies in a make-believe universe or, in some cases, babies divided between an imaginative universe and a sky filled with bright cumulous clouds or birds that appear out of place or words like “Tick-Tock” painted in bright yellow.
The connection between Kearns’ paintings of hyperrealist babies and their surrounding space is somewhat staggering, in fact, almost paradoxical. Translated into the realm of psychology one might find in these paintings a curious manifestation, particularly when one discovers the original source for these images was inspired by a magazine ad selling diapers. What does this tell us about our relationship to infants? Are they cute because they are real or because they are picture perfect? And how do we come to terms with ourselves to relation to them? What are they learning from us?
Four of the five baby paintings are presumably titled with a child’s name: Joshua, Spud, Mollie, and Clark. The fifth carries the title Alpha, presumably in relation to a related painting, Omega, of a grown adult wearing a space suit also in a make-believe universe. Another painting, titled BLAM!!! – the title of Kearns’ exhibition – depicts a teenage boy and girl, also in a fake universe (with birds) where a seemingly stenciled see-through portrait of a woman’s face is shown over the adolescent boy who stands with praying hands. This technique involves a kind of figurative transparency in which two figures are inverted in relation to one another. This is also shown in Omega where a woman’s portrait is placed over the spaceman, perhaps to imply a rumination of passion.
Another painting, titled Lola, is possibly the most complex “psychological work” in the exhibition. This is largely due to a series of conflicting elements masterfully painted in relation to one another. The woman wears an orange sweater with an imprint of an unidentified male portrait. In the universe above her we see a second larger imprint of a woman’s face apparently looking down at her. There is a scattering of bright green leaves sparsely hanging from a nearby tree. To her right, there are three seemingly unrelated elements: a bird pecking on her shoulder, a hand with open fingers (female?), and finally a pistol suspended in the space beneath the hand as if it had just been dropped.
Over the years, Kearns has come to terms not only with his subject matter but also with his observational ability to control his imagery in a way that delivers both an emotional and intellectual charge. It is difficult to forget these paintings. Some will decipher them as being weird – which in certain respects they are – but more importantly they are capable of having both a cognitive and sensory appeal that takes us away from the familiar into the realm of the human imagination. In recent years this has become increasingly susceptible to commercial pressures that dictate how we form a self-image of ourselves in the current century. This is a concern worthy of our attention in the paintings of Jerry Kearns. WM
Robert C. Morgan is an educator, art historian, critic, poet, and artist. Knowledgeable in the history and aesthetics of both Western and Asian art, Morgan has lectured widely, written hundreds of critical essays (translated into twenty languages), published monographs and books, and curated numerous exhibitions. He has written reviews for Art in America, Arts, Art News, Art Press(Paris), Sculpture Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, and Hyperallergic. His catalog essays have been published by Gagosian, Pace, Sperone Westwater, Van Doren Waxter, White Cube (London), Kukje (Seoul), Malingue (Hong Kong), and Ink Studio (Beijing). Since 2010, he has been New York Editor for Asian Art News and World Sculpture News, both published in Hong Kong. He teaches in the Graduate Fine Arts Program at Pratt Institute as an Adjunct Professor and at the School of Visual Arts.
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