What’s your favorite western? I’ve always been partial to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. Shane is up there too, along with High Noon and The Big Country (Gregory Peck and Chuck Heston in one huge, wide-screen, 70 millimeter epic). Western actors? My favorite is Randolph Scott – he exuded integrity, strength and compassion. I also liked Joel McCrea and Slim Pickens a lot. But what about that Jewish guy? You know, the very serious looking guy, very Brando, kind of a hipster, long hair, funky head gear…strong but vulnerable…guy was born in Nazareth, moved to Hollywood to get work…he did some good flicks too. In fact, his career seems to be commemorated at the Mike Weiss Gallery these days in Jerry Kearns show: RRRGGHH!!!
In fact, Kearns paints Jesus as one doleful looking gunslinger. I guess he’s kind of like Shane – he wants to hang up his guns but when you’ve got some aggressive, two-bit, red-neck peckerwood in your town, why, women and children can’t walk down the street safely. This calls for a Marshall, or a good-guy with a gun to take care of the bad-guy with a gun.
Actually I think Kearns is pointing out something really interesting. They did a psychological study a while ago where two groups of people either had to read passages from the Bible or sections from the daily newspaper. After both groups were finished they were tested for levels of aggression. The group that had read parts of the Bible was measured as more aggressive than the news readers. Why is religious literature so violent and bloody? It seems that we like to use bloody allegories as symbolic tales of spiritual evolution. There’s something corrupt inside of us and it has to be confronted and violently rooted out for inner peace to reign – that seems to be a big formula for spiritual evolution. This lends itself perfectly to stories of good guys blasting bad guys to smithereens. In fact, sometimes you get the good guy, killed by the bad guy, who is then killed by the friend/son/brother of the first good guy. You see this from Osiris, to Agamemnon, to Macbeth, to the Lion King. This seems to be the allegory of allegories – the absence of goodness can only be filled again after the evil which removed it is killed. So we get a lot of revenge killing movies/stories throughout the ages.
Of course it’s completely paradoxical. The goal of spiritual development, from what I can tell, is a type of inner peace. When you get real religion, you don’t get frazzled anymore. Somebody can call you an SOB and you can smile at him. They slap you, you turn the other cheek. Yet, the idea of establishing ‘peace’ and kindness as a response to malice as your ultimate goal, but accomplishing this peace by embracing stories of violence and revenge …well, something is wrong there. If you are spiritually complete you will probably not believe in revenge any more, yet you embraced a story of revenge killing as a guide in your spiritual quest? What? So I think this is one thing Kearns might be highlighting.
It might be argued, however, that Christianity was kind of a way (originally within the Jewish tradition) to eliminate this type of paradox. We’ve got lots of righteous, allegorical killings in the “Old” Testament (sometimes whole armies or cities are destroyed) but Jesus tries to attain his goals relatively peacefully to the point of self-sacrifice in the “New” Testament . Maybe it’s the same with Buddhism and Hinduism. You’ve got lots of cool wars and kidnappings and revenge killings in Hindu religious literature, but Buddhism, which sprang from it, is all butterflies and peace signs. In Hinduism you decapitate a demon or two and gain spiritual enlightenment, in Buddhism you sit under a tree.
In any case, Kearns’ work is so engaging it speaks for itself. Please check out his hilarious paintings of Jesus as a gunslinger at Mike Weiss. Kearns seems to be poking fun at our tendency to visualize the process of human development in violent terms, regardless of the fact that this is so counter-productive. Even within the Christian tradition, built on the self-destructive ethical behavior of a pacifistic Nazarene whistle-blower, we still love watching the bad guy get his cahoonas shot off. This is probably not a good way to visualize the path to enlightenment.
Jerry Kearns: RRRGGHH!!! June 26 – August 23
520 W 24 NYC
212 691 6899
Open Tues-Sat 10-6
Writing by Daniel Gauss
Photography provided by the gallery and the artist