Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Paul McCarthy - intro and 'Painter' analysis

Paul McCarthy is one of those artists who I love for reasons that are overall a mystery to me.
Do I like him like I secretly like the obnoxious indie kid in a class who wears revolutionary t-shirts but shows up with Starbucks? Or do I like him as I do the mad scientist who challenges convention and comes up with something brilliant after others deemed him insane?

I’ve seen a few of his works in person, but I’ve only watched his performances via the glory of the internet.
To date, I’ve seen ‘Painter’, ‘Sauce’, ‘Class Fool’, ‘Family Tyranny’ and ‘Cultural Soup’, in that order.

McCarthy represents his video subject in a childish but still controlled way. It’s the duality that makes it so difficult to ignore his work and so easy to like it. The fact that he is based in Los Angeles, a city known for surgically-enhanced perfection and superficiality, adds an extra layer of satire to his work. He discusses themes like child abuse (Family Tyranny) and the consumerist art world (Painter), in a way that is ruthlessly absurd and campy, but brilliant.

He very often uses ketchup, mayonnaise and chocolate in his works. Using edible and accessible materials in place of the bodily fluids (blood, semen, and feces) they stand for also lends a slightly kitschy accessibility to his work. It’s light/non-threatening and serious at the same time.

There is so much more to say about his pieces, I’ll really have to go into a few one by one to give a full scope. He’s a cool cat, so I’ll definitely be revisiting him.

For now, I’ll comment on ‘Painter.' This probably won't be a complete review, just the start of one, there are many, many layers to it and I'd like to give them all justice.
Here’s a link to the video:
Yes, it’s about an hour long, but if you can dedicate the time to it, please do. It really is a fantastic piece of work.

Among the things McCarthy, donning a curly blonde wig, prosthetic nose, and large, fake hands does in the video:
- Spins in a circle while chanting ‘De Kooning’ over and over.
- Sings “Pop Goes the Weasel” while attempting to move a canvas.
- Chops off one of his giant fingers with a machete and mixes in his blood with the paint.
- Rants and raves about the money he is owed.
- Sit in on a TV broadcast featuring an interview with two posh European collectors of well-known contemporary artists like Martin Kippenberger.
- Attempts to teach his audience about painting, diving into lessons about brush techniques and then ranting “I’m fucking painting, I’m fucking painting, I’m fucking painting.”
- Gets his ass sniffed by a critic at the end of the video. The critic approves, and the video ends.

One review online referred to the prosthetic as a “bulbous drinker’s nose”, if this is so, is it a nod to the AbEx artists affinity for getting drunk and rowdy?
Everyone in the video has the same fake nose, are they all just under disguise because they live within a marginal, niche reality? Or is McCarthy just trying to imply that they’re all liars?
At one point in the video, McCarthy also urinates in a potted plant, a learned nod at an infamous incident where a drunken Jackson Pollock urinated in Peggy Guggenheim’s fireplace.

I first watched this video in December, probably on Christmas Eve, if I recall. I had only recently become aware of McCarthy, so I hadn’t become all that familiar with his work, but I was very taken by this video. It moved me initially because I saw it as an exploration of artistic struggles to produce while still staying true to their work and not going insane over dealing with elitist collectors and gallerists. Now that I know more and am still learning more about him, AbEx artists, conceptual artists and the Viennese Actionism that inspired his work, the meaning I find in it changes. The more I learn the more brilliant I think it is.

The film can be seen in a variety of ways – a parody of the Abstract Expressionists, an exploration of the struggles of an artist, a scathing critique of an art world concerned only with dollar signs. I don’t have the answer, but as usual, the work speaks for itself.

1 comment:

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I love to read about linguistics, behavioral economics, theory and philosophy. I listen to music some might call outdated, write satirical and high testosterone plays, consume too much caffeine and ruthlessly defend modern and contemporary art.