Jerry Kearns’s brand of comic-book-derived painting is deeply eccentric, a bit creepy and an acquired taste. You can’t call it Pop Art, as the term seems too limiting; to quote one of the many written sound effects surging across his images, it’s more like Blam! Art.
His latest show mashes together Westerns and film noir with a generous helping of the Rapture. In many of the scenes, Jesus, portrayed as a gunslinger wearing a crown of thorns, shoots it out with the Devil and his minions, like the Second Coming at the O.K. Corral.
In a couple of instances, this mayhem results in a hail of bullets lacing the canvases as lines of tracer fire accompanied by onomatopoeic ejaculations—kling!, skreeee and b-doom! Kearns’s style borrows from such early-’50s chestnuts as Tales from the Crypt, but while bold outlines and flat colors predominate, Christ’s face is finely rendered, as if it had wandered in from a religious picture hanging over Grandma’s bed. Frozen in the same expression throughout, it resembles a mask collaged onto each composition.
Kearns’s depictions of a fundamentalist, open-carry America are certainly over-the-top, but his commitment to excess is a goal in and of itself—a thumbing of his nose at art-world insiders most noticeable in a view of Christ’s ascension to Heaven via the Guggenheim rotunda. A fever dream? Indubitably. But also, perhaps, an allegory about the reactionary furor of a hard-pressed segment of the populace, its exploitation by the 1 percent, and the art world’s indifference to the self-dealing of the latter, who, after all, make up the collector class. It’s all very dangerous, Kearns seems to say, and he may have a point.—Howard Halle