Yul Vazquez

by D. Dominick Lombardi

Yul Vazquez and Gwen, Photo: Parker Burr
Yul Vazquez and Gwen, Photo: Parker Burr

There are some of us, who can move from one art form to another and always find footing. Those individuals have a natural ability to respond to the challenges, find those inner voices they trust, and overcome every bump and detour in their journey. One of those genuine, passionate and dedicated individuals is Yul Vazquez, who credits much of his success to his mother, and a childhood filled with spiritual, social, and supportive experiences. Vazquez recalls with fondness those “ mystics and spiritualists” who were his mother’s friends, and he sees Cuba as a most significant part of his being.

At the age of three, Vazquez traveled with his mother, sister and grandmother to America from Cuba, which at the time, would have been an incredibly dangerous journey (this was 1969, after the Cuban Missile Crisis in ‘63, and the Bay of Pigs in ‘61). By the time his family fled Cuba, the Cold War was raging, travel to and from Cuba was forbidden, and the US placed an embargo of all goods flowing back and forth, virtually isolating the island. Growing up, Vazquez was exposed to a rich history of Afro-Caribbean Religions and Deities, an exposure to the occult that would follow him throughout his life, and one that would eventually appear as cryptic signs, mysterious symbols and bold sentences in his visual art. 

Student protest against the Fidel Castro government in Havana's central park. January 8, 1960, Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Student protest against the Fidel Castro government in Havana’s central park. January 8, 1960, Photo: Wikimedia Commons

His creative journey began when his mother noticed his interest in music, especially the drums. Since it was the four of them living in a small efficiency apartment in Miami Beach, it was not the easiest commitment to make, but the drum set was there, in the corner of their all-purpose room by the time Vazquez was eight years old. His musical tipping point came when he was twelve, when he heard Whole Lotta Love for the first time. By then he had switched to guitar, and when he heard Led Zeppelin’s iconic song it shook him to his core, “I was stunned, stopped in my tracks thinking ‘What is This?’”. Instantly, the die was cast for Vazquez and soon, with a lot of hard work and ingenuity, the self taught musician was earning upwards of $90 per gig! 

Even though music will always play a key role in Vazquez’s life, his fate would change when he got his first acting role as Flaco in The Mambo Kings. Since then, he has appeared in countless movies and television series that most recently includes Severance, Promised Land and the soon to be released The White House Plumbers

Yul Vazquez, Fingers Freddy (2021), mixed media on printed canvas, 37 x 37 inches, courtesy of Red Fox Enterprises, Inc
Yul Vazquez, Fingers Freddy (2021), mixed media on printed canvas, 37 x 37 inches, courtesy of Red Fox Enterprises, Inc

Most recently, Vazquez has added a career in the visual arts, creating striking images that shifts between arresting black & white photography, fantastical mixed media paintings and stream of consciousness drawings. Opening July 16th at Red Fox Contemporary Art in Pound Ridge, NY, Vazquez will offer a variety of his works in a solo exhibition titled Bruce, which promises to add quite a substantial amount of heat to mid-summer. Among his wizardry of works will be Fingers Freddy, a work prompted by an x-ray of a six-fingered hand he spotted on the internet. Blown up and placed in a field of black, the image becomes haunting and mystical as Vazquez adds a frenzy of words, symbols and small sympathetic characters. His keen eye, especially when observing social behavior, helps Vazquez to elucidate both his observations and his emotions, which can stem from anywhere in his personal history to his current experiences.

If anyone has ever spent time on a movie set, it would be crystal clear how grueling the lives of actors and filmmakers are, where the 12-16 hour days waffle between endless waiting and pressure packed performing. Knowing this little detail would give you a better picture of what a wonderful, cleansing and fulfilling time Vazquez has in the solitude of his studio. In a recent conversation, he mentioned the alarm on his phone set for 3pm, which reminds him to take a “moment of gratitude” for his good life and the great people he has to share it with. I believe that gratification, his acknowledgement of his circumstance clearly comes through in his art.

Yul Vazquez, Mother (2022), mixed media on printed canvas, 52 x 52 inches, courtesy of Red Fox Enterprises, Inc
Yul Vazquez, Mother (2022), mixed media on printed canvas, 52 x 52 inches, courtesy of Red Fox Enterprises, Inc

Vazquez often references his mother in his art, focusing on her light, love and strength. One example is Mother, where Vazquez uses a B-movie photograph of an obscure actress in a playful pose, with lightning bolts coming out of her fingers and costume. This combination of power and poise captured his attention, just like it did with the six-fingered x-ray, only this time, a weirdly iconic image of a female space alien became the center of his attention. Tags of “Where r u mother when I am so lost?” and “Your heart was always so full” crosses the upper portion of the picture plane, while on the bottom left appears a kid with a guitar who is clearly loving and cherishing her presence.

The exhibition, which is titled Bruce, refers to an omnipresent ‘being’ that symbolizes all, the entire universe, including the most important human traits in the artist’s mind: “kindness, never malevolence, and always having a heart of gold.” Bruce appears in a painting of the same name, as a buoyant bunny who sports a huge grin and hopeful eyes. The figure eight seen here, which surfaces from time to time in Vazquez’s work, signifies infinity, or no end to Bruce’s positive and all encompassing positive energy.

Yul Vazquez, Joker (2022), mixed media on printed canvas, 75 x 52 inches, courtesy of Red Fox Enterprises, Inc
Yul Vazquez, Joker (2022), mixed media on printed canvas, 75 x 52 inches, courtesy of Red Fox Enterprises, Inc

The multimedia work Joker began as a collage of bits and pieces of playing cards that happened to have the compelling distinction of a skull and crossbones on the back. Vazquez tags the blown up version of that collage with animated hearts, stars, squiggles and sprays, which are partnered with various phrasings like “Memento Mori,” “Love is the Law,” “Traveler” and “Mi Reina” (My Queen). Taken in all at once, a voodoo vibe breaks through the layers of iconic images, passionate declarations and whirlwinds of emotion that leave us with a potent and mesmerizing visual.

The formidable photography of Vazquez, which is the basis of many of his multimedia paintings, can be overtly cinematic at times, especially when his night scenes shift unmistakably toward the Noir. Conversely, his more ‘candid’ images taken in Miami and New York, where pretty much anything goes, capture everything from bold decadence and pure self indulgence to desolation and despair. That feeling of hopelessness, which at times can reach surreal heights, can best be seen and felt in his photographs taken in Cuba, where time has virtually stood still, as only the strength and ingenuity of the Cuban people can offer light and life.

Yul Vazquez, Untitled (2011),digital photograph printed on paper, 13 x 31 inches, edition ⅔, courtesy of the artist
Yul Vazquez, Untitled (2011),digital photograph printed on paper, 13 x 31 inches, edition ⅔, courtesy of the artist

Vazquez, the visual artist,  is like a diarist, except his tale is told through impactful phrases and images, brilliant color and iconic symbols. Fueled by an innate ability to see through the haze of the mundane, Vazquez continually takes us to a place where life can truly be enlightening.

Bruce, a solo exhibition of the works of Yul Vazquez, opens July 16 at Red Fox gallery, 55 Westchester Avenue, Pound Ridge NY 10576. For more information, please refer to https://www.redfoxartgallery.com/

The Impenetrable in Art

by Steve Rockwell

Pat McDermott, You see it, 2022, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 15 x 15.5 x 1.75 inches (38.1 x 39.4 x 4.4 cm)
Pat McDermott, You see it, 2022, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 15 x 15.5 x 1.75 inches (38.1 x 39.4 x 4.4 cm)

At the artist talk for his “You see it” exhibition at the Christopher Cutts Gallery in Toronto, Pat McDermott emphasized the direct experience of his work as a key to unlocking its import. The artist avoided references to contemporary art criticism, but elaborated on the Lascaux cave art as his primer. Although interpretations of pre-historic cave art will likely be subject to our own prejudices, there is a belief that ritualistic trance-dancing may have been part of this early art, shamanistic rituals inducing visions. Cambridge professor of classical art and archeology, Nigel Spivey, points out that the dot and lattice patterns overlapping the representational images of animals resemble the hallucinations induced by sensory-deprivation. Regardless, we can infer that the Lascaux artist communicated to the cave community directly and powerfully, to the extent that their lives somehow depended on the reception of its message.

Pat McDermott, I beseech you, 2021, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 15 x 15 x 1.75 inches (38.1 x 38.1 x 4.4 cm)
Pat McDermott, I beseech you, 2021, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 15 x 15 x 1.75 inches (38.1 x 38.1 x 4.4 cm)
Kazuo Nakamura, Rectangle Series, 1988, drawing
Kazuo Nakamura, Rectangle Series, 1988, drawing

McDermott’s approach to his art carries this sense of the essential, a life-long journey to the “core” of our being, which he maintains is “untouchable” and “unreachable.” This drive for answers to primal meaning in art brought to mind the work of Kazuo Nakamura, particularly to an exhibition from nearly two decades ago at the Cutts Gallery. In a review of the artist’s work, writer Gary Michael Dault characterized the almost monastic fervour of Nakamura’s painterly researches as being the result of a steadfast conviction that “There’s a sort of fundamental pattern in all art and nature… in a sense, scientists and artists are doing the same thing. This world of pattern is a world we are experiencing together.” Nakamura’s 1983 oil on linen “Number Structure and Fractals” can be viewed as the graphic depiction of the life of numbers, each organism containing the seed of its own being. By 1980, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot had produced high quality visualizations of sets of complex numbers while working at an IBM research center, fulfilling Nakamura’s 1956 vision of artists and scientists working in tandem.

Kazuo Nakamura, Number Structures and Fractals, 1983, oil on linen, 71 x 101.7 cm
Kazuo Nakamura, Number Structures and Fractals, 1983, oil on linen, 71 x 101.7 cm

Perhaps this drive to the core of our being has no better illustration than the Renaissance itself, set in motion by Filippo Brunelleschi’s engineering miracle, the Florence Cathedral, his invention of perspective being a product. Inspired by Roman architect and engineer, Vitruvius, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” drawing blended mathematics and art, demonstrating the harmony of human proportion, centering the point of perspective, here, at the naval. Clearly more than a presentation of male anatomy was intended. Leonardo believed that the workings of the body was an analogy for the workings of the entire universe – a cosmografia del minor mondo. To the Renaissance polymath, this knitting together of the lines of sight was a miracle: ”Here forms, here colors, here the character of every part of the universe are concentrated to a point; and that point is a marvellous thing.” For a shining moment, engineering, architecture, mathematics, and science found its expression through art, producing some of the greatest creative minds of all time.

Guiseppe Morano, Watch: Time: Fly, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 96”
Guiseppe Morano, Watch: Time: Fly, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 96”

Present at McDermott’s talk was interdisciplinary artist Giuseppe Morano, to whom I owe a bit of gratitude for linking and contrasting Nakamura’s art with McDermott’s. I had become acquainted with Morano’s art at the Artist Project a few years ago, his work being singularly based in numbers and mathematics, primarily a digital printing of black numbers on white primed canvas. At the exhibition Morano’s homage to Vincent van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Crows” the artist precisely mimicked the wing position with each crow in Van Gogh’s painting with the hands of a clock, and printing the exact time that the wing alignments signify. As I said of the work at that time, “If Wheatfield with Crows” was indeed van Gogh’s last painting, we can picture the crows taking flight at the sound of the fatal gunshot.” Morano had converted the crows into time stamps, serving here as winged metaphors for the series of events leading up to the tragedy. His “Happy Birthday: You’re so special” work is aesthetically neutral to its implied subject, until we recognize that the 366 sets of numbers printed randomly in columns signify the birthdays of every person who has ever lived. Your joy or disappointment at his gift to you may depend on whose birthday you were fated to be near, at least as how they were dispensed in Morano’s numerical universe.

Guiseppe Morano, Happy Birthday: You're so special, 2018, 72" x 36", acrylic on canvas
Guiseppe Morano, Happy Birthday: You’re so special, 2018, 72″ x 36″, acrylic on canvas

McDermott’s “You see it” exhibition is an invitation to penetrate the “unreachable” and “untouchable.” With few exceptions, the titles of the artist’s work emphatically address “You.” A solitary work begins in the first person: “I beseech you.” Yet, how much of the objective world can be inferred from any given work of art? If 605 of the more than 900 animals depicted by the Lascaux cave artists can be precisely identified today, then their art is hardly delirious phantasmagoria – rather an accurate encyclopedic cataloguing of the biosphere upon which their lives depended. 

Presented here is a fragment of the see-saw of art history – the visual style of the moment being a sum of the artist’s thoughts, set against the nourishment of insight and aesthetic meat upon which the viewer is invited to feed. “You see it?”

Nora Griffin’s Liquid Days at Fierman West

by John Mendelsohn

Nora Griffin, Empire State (Zebra), 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm
Nora Griffin, Empire State (Zebra), 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm

Nora Griffins’s paintings are scrappy, high-spirited, improvised works that feel like visual diaries of life on the run. Saturated color, woozy pattern, and images of fish, animals, and art pile up and jostle for a place in the sun. Surrounded by artist frames, which serve as shelves for a variety of objects, the four nearly six-foot square paintings and four smaller works are a kind of declaration of independence for this artist. They bring together ideas and motifs of her earlier work, but here with an expansive, imaginative panache and free-wheeling energy.

Nora Griffin, Koi, 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm
Nora Griffin, Koi, 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm

In the painting Koi, zones of blues and purples are set off by free-form areas of cadmium red, creating a patchwork pool for the swimming goldfish. This painting shares with Empire State (Zebra) a kind of psychedelic intensity, with each form or space between becoming a place to record an impression of the fleeting world or a painterly sensation. A series of cascading, irregular blocks in green are echoed in a variety of smaller grids, all of which contrast with sections of yellow and aqua animated by daubed speckles. At the center of all the antic activity is a serene, multi-colored zebra. 

Nora Griffin, Liquid Days (zzz Cat), 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm
Nora Griffin, Liquid Days (zzz Cat), 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm

Liquid Days (zzz Cat) is a painting dominated by a looping lattice in Grannie Smith apple green and lavender, with flashes of purplish red. On top of this field, lounges a tabby cat in tones of purple. A crenelated outline in yellow haunts like a phantom presence, along with the sculpted palm prints that hang on the gesturally painted frame. Altogether, the result is an immersion in trippy high-jinx, a feeling of crazy, ordinary freedom.

Nora Griffin, Glass Flute, 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm
Nora Griffin, Glass Flute, 2022, oil on canvas, modeling paste, Flashe, epoxy, spray paint, artist frame, 69 1/2h x 69 1/2w inches, 176.53h x 176.53w cm

The fourth large painting, Glass Flute, has a water-like rippling pattern in yellow and yellow-orange, overlaid by three images: two outlined ducks, an inset that looks like a quotation from one of the artist’s earlier works, and a detail from the Manet painting, The Fifer, here in grisaille. The combination of all these elements is cryptic, evoking the kind of mental conundrum that David Salle has specialized in. But here, the loosely rendered images and the funky abstract squiggles and dottings reveal the artist’s idiosyncratic touch, suggesting a receptive spirit that is open to the multifarious gifts that the world is continually offering. 

In Griffin’s paintings, large-scale visual exuberance carries in its wake signs of the artist’s personal affinities. Together they create a theater of the artist’s inner world, made accessible and public-facing. Her impromptu, reckless works convey a feeling of charged avidity for a life that she wants to share with us.

The sense of Griffin’s personal stake in these paintings is embodied in their every aspect, including the objects lodged in the frames, suggesting both private revelation and a guarding of the extraordinary act of self-exposure that painting entails. The objects surrounding the canvases, à la Jasper Johns, include painted eyeglasses, turtles, palm prints, the artist’s initials, and souvenir Statues of Liberty, which give the whole enterprise a rakish New York City vibe.

In these works, Nora Griffin melds a number of different impulses: a devil-may-care rawness, using paint as a blunt instrument of sensation, a desire to create a personal dream-logic from juxtaposed color and image, and an affirmation that painting can be a poetic art that is on the street, in the museum, and in the heart, all at once. 

Nora Griffin / Liquid Days at Fierman West, 19 Pike Street, New York, NY from June 3 to July 2, 2022.

The Artificial Beauty of Jaiseok Kang a.k.a. Jason River

by Mary Hrbacek

Bubble wrap no.23 (Mermaid), 2021. Archival Pigment Print, 60x34 in. frame 66x40 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist
Bubble wrap no.23 (Mermaid), 2021. Archival Pigment Print, 60×34 in. frame 66×40 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist

 The newly reopened Paris Koh Fine Arts presents, “artificial. Beauty: Jaiseok Kang a.k.a. Jason River,” an exhibition of six new (2021) large scale archival pigment prints and six smaller gelatin silver prints. The large daring staged images are startling and fresh, evocative and dynamic. River’s nature-inspired vision is augmented with colored bubble wrap, repurposed to replicate the leaves of trees and to function as the scales and fins of a male merman and female mermaid.  He configures dancers from the New York City ballet, as he explores experimental artificial environments by positioning the volunteer nude models in composite relationships with the reimagined plastic substance of bubble wrap. River plays out mythological themes of transformation into human Bonsai trees; human-fish and jellyfish morph into forms with extended meaning and potential.  Bubble wrap, a signature material in River’s creative vocabulary, adds a heightened emotional charge to the imaginative scenarios that stir in some works euphoric feelings of flowing freedom to be found in the movements of ocean-going creatures. These creatures are perhaps the next step in human evolution, as the Earth’s surface becomes increasingly uninhabitable. The freely floating pieces of bubble wrap, functioning as algae or other sea organisms, evoke the weightlessness of forms that thrive in the wind or in water.  

Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48x44 in. frame 51x47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist
Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48×44 in. frame 51×47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist

The extreme realism of the figures, made possible exclusively by the camera, creates a marked shift in vision and contrast in feeling compared with the artificial material. The hybrid combination pushes the boundaries of imagination to the limits of belief by asking the viewer to consider two distinctive means of image-making that are especially provocative in the Bonsai pieces. The human elements of the Bonsai group diverge from the realm of evocative reality into a fully blown rendition of female anatomy. This effect overtakes the natural suggestiveness of the bio-forms. The bright supporting colors of the backgrounds and the tree “leaves” transport the works into a heightened non-naturalistic environment that speaks to an unconscious need for reverie and celebration by rejoicing in life’s ever changing vocabulary of experiences.  

Bubble wrap no.25 (Merman), 2021. Archival Pigment Print, 60x34 in. frame 66x40 in. Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48x44 in. frame 51x47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist
Bubble wrap no.25 (Merman), 2021. Archival Pigment Print, 60×34 in. frame 66×40 in. Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48×44 in. frame 51×47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist

The male and female underwater fish figures that glide through the depths with tail fins and tendrils swirling behind, provide a lush sense of the buoyant ephemeral character of underwater existence.  Nothing is static or rigidly fixed; every aspect of deep-sea life as seen in the photographs moves and undulates perpetually, beckoning us to escape our inflexibility and rejoice in life. The “Bubble wrap no. 21 (Jellyfish)” piece entices the viewer to realize the nature of the Id which can cause us pleasure and pain with its insistent desire and consequent burning sting. The warm enveloping range of light and dark red-orange tones in the “Bubble wrap no. 23 (Mermaid)” photograph stirs a sense of both water and fire, while the deep blue hues of the “Bubble wrap no. 25 (Merman)” expand our consciousness by presenting cool realms where a freshly created being, the Merman, dominates. “Bubble wrap no. 27 (Black Resilience)” presents a trio of naked men grouped crouching on a mountain peak, where ominous clouds hover overhead.  The men express their ascendency by relating to each other with outstretched arms, having conquered their worldly challenges.  

Bubble wrap no.21 (jellyfish), 2021. (Behind the scenes series). Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48x44 in. frame 51x47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist
Bubble wrap no.21 (jellyfish), 2021. (Behind the scenes series). Bubble wrap no.27 (Black Resilience), 2022. Archival Pigment Print, 48×44 in. frame 51×47 in. Courtesy of Paris Koh Fine Arts and the artist

The “Behind the scenes” series of 10” x 10” (frame 15” x 15”) gelatin silver prints gives the viewer insights into River’s creative working process by providing varying possibilities that add to the richness of the final visions, as seen in the large pieces. Here the Merman and Mermaid photographs have lights that suggest planets in the darkened “sky,” to provide a cosmic or otherworldly dimension to these new forms. The three male figures in “Bubble wrap no. 27 (Black Resilience)” seem to be resting from a difficult struggle, contemplating their current position.  The standing figure appears to be the chief in charge (River himself) who makes the fatal decisions.

These pictures are strange and beguiling; River has created unique narratives that touch the realm of fairytales peopled with creatures who may initially alarm us, but who ultimately stir our awe, empathy, and curiosity.  He works intuitively, allowing the exploration process to spark his engagement, providing unconscious ideas and relationships that augment each other. River takes photographs before he assigns theoretical underpinnings to his endeavors.  He focuses on what is unfolding in the “now,” moment by moment. This extreme commitment infuses the hybrid works with authenticity; the imagery may initially seem contradictory as the nude body reveals all its forms in contrast with the abstracted structures of the re-purposed bubble wrap, transformed into tree leaves, clouds, fish scales and flying or floating ephemera. By creating these diverse means of expression River takes the photographic genre into a more creative arena using wire, a flashlight and bubble wrap to augment the lush beauty of the nude figures. The artist considers the series “bizarre yet fun,” but it goes further than fun, it introduces the viewer to a surprising universe of visual ideas in artificial scenes that open unexpected doors to future explorations. These ideas have acquired their own ingenious reality.

What the…? Jerry Kearns at Studio Artego

by D. Dominick Lombardi

Shade (2020), Jerry Kearns, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches
Shade (2020), Jerry Kearns, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches

My first thought seeing this solo exhibition of Jerry Kearns paintings at Studio Artego is collage. The Pop artist Erró comes to mind, an Icelandic born and current resident of Spain and France who approaches his work much in the same way as Kearns, by first making a collage study. Another commonality is that both Kearns and Erró create powerful socio-political paintings based on those pieced-together preliminaries that always seem to have more than a bit of dark humor and irony in the messaging. 

Kearns’ paintings are brilliantly rendered with great precision, mostly featuring blissful clouds bathed in brilliant light. This backdrop, which in one instance is a bold and blazing sunset, can either enhance or contrast the narratives in very compelling ways. The exhibition’s title, What The…?, may refer to the artist’s constant state of concern and bewilderment regarding the way the world seems to be unraveling and regressing, especially here at home. Most of the paintings feature a comic book style subject, something in the manner of Graham Ingles (1915-91), featuring high contrast shading and theatrical gestures, modified a bit for more graphic impact. For instance, in Shade (2020), we see a determined grave digger that looks like it could have come right out of Tales From the Crypt, working feverishly as the soul of his unfortunate victim heads for the heavens. Works like this, and the silkscreen print Hard Rock (1992) take on even more urgent meaning as the strength of Roe v Wade once again, is being tested. Even the use of Mount Rushmore, representing four powerful men deciding the rights of women, really brings home the fear/submission of the woman in the foreground. I wonder if the man/boy responsible for the pregnancy were also subject to trial, fine or jail, if the powers that be would still be so committed to their cause. 

Hard Rock (1992), Jerry Kearns, silkscreen, 26 ¼ x 30 inches
Hard Rock (1992), Jerry Kearns, silkscreen, 26 ¼ x 30 inches 

Stormy Weather (2021) reveals the many techniques the artist has mastered over his extensive career. In beautifully applied and blended acrylic paints, with the occasional use of thin pencil line or graphite, Kearns shows us his focused wizardry with form, color and composition. Even the comic book style references can vary, like in Stormy Weather, as a more 1940’s Modern Love type mix is combined with a symbolic silhouette reference to the BLM protests on the left, and a slightly trippy fem fatale center/front. It is also quite clear in this instance, that some things just make sense aesthetically and compositionally for the artist, as he strategically divides the picture plane with a pair of dainty legs that split the narrative, suggesting the golden ratio. Top right, the passionate politics being played out here are observed by two beautiful and very curious birds perched on hanging ivy, perhaps representing hope and a peaceful end to this complex drama. 

Stormy Weather (2021), Jerry Kearns, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 84 inches
Stormy Weather (2021), Jerry Kearns, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 84 inches 

On the main wall opposite the entrance hang three works: What The…? (2022), Alpha (2020), and Diva (2022). All equally sized and similar in visual weight, they tell distinctly different tales. What The…? encapsulates how quickly an uneventful walk on a perfect afternoon can end abruptly and painfully if you don’t watch your step. Something that is happening more often these days as many of us are staring more at our phones than what is right in front of us. Alpha is the most eye-catching and strange of this trio. It features a bouncing baby in mid-flight, joyfully spreading its limbs. Covered in ‘tattoos’, the narrative transmitted from the baby quickly becomes oddly troubling. When analyzing the body illustrations, biblical or strong christian references, such as glimpses of Christ’s hands on the cross, maybe a pregnant Mary and winged angels traversing the otherwise innocent form now becomes far more weighty. Diva is the most direct of the three, showing the passage from earth bound to heavenward as the subject’s hands become transparent and thus transcendent.

Alpha (2020), Jerry Kearns, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches
Alpha (2020), Jerry Kearns, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

Jerry Kearns is much more than a Pop artist. The way he layers his narratives and brings added intensity can be jarring, intoxicating and perplexing to the point of no return. This all happens because his paintings trigger deep emotions, enlightening us with thoughts unrestrained by time. His focus moves freely and fluidly, uninhibited in his search for truths that are not confined by any preconceived order – and as a seeker of truth, you have to think and project multidimensionally and Kearns does that beautifully and indelibly. 

Jerry Kearns “WHAT THE…?” runs through June 17. Studio Artego is located at 32-88 48th Street, Queens, New York, 11103.