Jerry Kearns
Deep Cover: The Deadly Art of Illusion

September 12 – October 23, 1992
Jerry Kearns

The University Gallery begins the 1992 fall semester with two exhibitions that question the interrelationship between the personal and political in today's society. Jerry Kearns Deep Cover: The Deadly Art of Illusion is a retrospective exhibition of work by an artist who, for over twenty years, has explored the chicken-or-egg phenomenon of the individual's place within the collective and the ways in which the collective influences individual opinions. Deep Cover: The Deadly Art of Illusion,which includes 20 large-scale paintings created between 1982 and 1989, was organized by Tyler Galleries, Tyler School of Art of Temple University and was curated by Don Desmett. The exhibition is on view in the University Gallery from September 12 through October 23, with an opening reception on Friday, September 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibition is being shared with Herter Art Gallery of the Uhiversity's Department of Art, which is located in Herter Hall. The exhibition's viewing in Herter Art Gallery begins on September 19, the day after the opening reception and continues through October 9.

Stylistically, Kearns layers dramatically rendered cartoon-style images with scenes borrowed or adapted from the gritty realism of the news media. The contrast in the collaged styles comments upon the media's ubiquitous pairing of fictive images from advertising (which intend to create a sellable/believable reality) with documentary photographs (which hope to capitalize on the dramatic moment). On a more personal level, the stylistic contrast reflects two of Kearns's acknowledged artistic mentors, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, both of whom freely took from the reservoir of popular images and products. In his early work, Lichtenstein invented theatrical, non sequitur scenarios based on and rendered in a comic book style with tantalizinqly implied narratives; Warhol emphasized the cult of celebrity with the candid repetition of dislocated media/commercial images until they achieved iconic status. Kearns uses the detached and reflexive methods of Lichtenstein and Warhol to extrude social and political meaning through the contrast of images and quoted styles.

Naked Brunch (1985) depicts a man and a woman, their clothes ripped and tattered, floating in a lifeboat. An air of wild desperation permeates the scene as the two begin to devour the whole fish they have presumably just plucked from the water. Behind them is a close-up view of the Statue of Liberty's head, which is in the process of being repaired and cleaned as evidenced by the surrounding scaffolding. As in most of Kearns's paintings, the image is ambiguous. Lady Liberty symbolizes the opportunity that awaits those who approach her shores with the hope of beginning a better life. Although the reality for immigrants to the United states is often frustratingly difficult, the couple in Kearns's raft appear to have been set adrift from an accustomed American middle-class existence. Their social unmooring is underscored by the painting's title: brunch may once have been a leisurely Sunday habit but is an inappropriate term for their present meal. The scene also plays on the recent cUlinary fad of eating sushi-Japanese- style raw fish. What was once the fashion here becomes a matter of survival.

A painting in which Kearns conflates two seemingly incongruous images is that of Madonna and Child (1986). This work merges the composed and glamorous facial features of Marilyn Monroe with the ravaged body of Kim Phuc, the napalmed child whose photograph, taken during the Vietnam War, shows her vainly running down a road- arms outstretched, face in torment--to escape her pain. Interpretation, in this case, is less ambiguous: a woman, who could not possibly live up to her assumed image as goddess, and a child, whose once anonymous body became a sacrificial symbol of an impossible war, are here portrayed as victims of powerful and rapacious industries. The painting's ambiguity lies in Kearns's projection of the viewer's possible complicity, either through unquestioned action or belief, in national myths and self-serving images. What underlies the majority of Kearns's work is not simply the need to critically examine specific social injustices and dilemmas, but also a call for self-examination as one exists within a polity.

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