Kirk Hayes is a find. A self-taught painter who works as a groundskeeper at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Tex., Mr. Hayes, 52, creates witty and amazingly effective trompe l’oeil paintings. This is his first solo exhibition in New York.
Mr. Hayes’s works appear to be easel-size collages made of torn pieces of colored or painted paper, cardboard, masking tape and bits of wood. They represent rudimentary, cartoonish scenes. Little people hold ropes tied to a parade balloon representing a giant rat. A pink and purple battleship bristles with brown gun barrels. A white sheet covers all but a bit of orange hair and the oversize boots of a dead clown.
These seeming collages look beat up. Scuffed, stained, peppered by tack holes and scribbled on by pencils and crayons, they resemble art projects by a messy elementary school student.
Look closely, however, and you discover that most of what you see is actually carefully painted. The torn edges of the cardboard, the semitransparent masking tape, the grainy areas of exposed plywood are not what they appear to be. You might have to touch the surfaces with your fingers to be convinced.
Bearing titles like “Float for the Cynically Melancholy” and “Rule by Fear,” Mr. Hayes’s works are more than just feats of clever craftsmanship. With their flat areas of muted color, varied textures and rectilinear designs, they are handsome formalist compositions. And while intimating bittersweet, obliquely autobiographical narratives, they slyly comment on modern art’s love of the raw and the naïve.