John Ahearn is known for his plaster casts of residents of New York’s South Bronx, a body of work that, as one critic has written, “gave Social Realism a new credibility during the 1980s.” Ahearn’s distinctive technique is derived from traditional plaster life casting and is greatly influenced by the artist’s longtime collaboration with his assistant Rigoberto Torres, whose uncle worked in a factory that produced traditional plaster statues of Christian saints. Ahearn’s works are formally reminiscent of such statues, albeit with a documentary scope.
Ahearn was the founding member of Collaborative Projects, Inc. and has produced several murals and public projects in the Bronx as well as in numerous locations in North America and Europe. He has had solo exhibitions at Newark's Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, the art gallery of the University of California San Diego, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum, among others. In May 2012, Ahearn participated in the special projects section of the Frieze Art Fair on Randall’s Island, where he presented a reconstruction of his legendary 1979 exhibition, originally installed at the Bronx artist-run gallery Fashion Moda, titled “South Bronx Hall of Fame.”