A mix of sculpture, painting, and cartoon, John Hernandez’s work is a dynamic journey into the artist’s singular view of the world around him. At Artpace, he presents several intricate new works, all dizzying combinations of images from popular culture, science fiction, and biotechnology.
In the center of the room is Lovecraft, a large-scale model of a phage virus that injects DNA into bacteria. Looking like an alien spacecraft, it is covered with ornate layers of cartoons. With spider-like legs, it appears to be spinning out of control, yet it is still, allowing the viewer to take in its detailed imagery.
Beyond it is an exaggerated hot-rod flame painted directly on the wall, which is next to a large cut-out painting on plywood. DUH! is a blown up word, based on a decal one would find on a teenager’s notebook or on the back of a car window. Iconographic and humorous, it taunts the viewer with a rhetorical answer.
Cartoon imagery and popular culture also collide in Jerry’s Kids, one of Hernandez’s largest constructions to date. In it, multiple figures metamorphosize into a one-eyed, monster-like form, connected by a swirling line of fire. Even the most innocent, well-intentioned events—Jerry Lewis’ annual telethon—are turned upside-down in Hernandez’s world.
Humor and playfulness are the immediate hallmarks of Hernandez’s work. A second look affords a darker view. Beginning with seemingly innocent sources for his imagery, specifically children’s cartoons, Hernandez brings out the grotesque in his baroque reformulation of popular culture. Drawing on science and science fiction, Hernandez crafts a new vocabulary, where familiar images are simultaneously mutilated and beautified—a transformation the artist describes as “mutafication.”