A landmark work of the 1990s that is among his best-known pieces, ‘Painter’ is a scathing satire on the idea of the heroic artist and the medium of painting that also manifests political critique. The video shows McCarthy himself performing as the eponymous painter, inside a set of an artist’s studio and bedroom. McCarthy is accompanied by a gallerist and collectors, all of whom, including the artist, exhibit fetishistic behaviors and are preoccupied with money and social status. The props include several canvases, over-sized brushes and giant tubes of paint, as well as a table with jars of mayonnaise and bottles of sauce. McCarthy is dressed in a typical artist’s smock as well as a blonde wig, and he wears a number of prosthetics, including a bulbous nose, large ears and oversize hands that are reminiscent of a clown costume.
In this exhibition, the performative aspect of ‘Painter’ is reinforced as a long-held concern in McCarthy’s work through the inclusion of an important early antecedent piece titled ‘Face, Head, Shoulder Painting – Wall, Black Line’ from 1972. Consisting of 19 Gelatin silver print photographs, it shows the artist carrying a can of paint at head height, leaning into a wall, and creating a line painting by tipping the can as he walks while applying the paint with his shoulder as a ‘paintbrush.’ Such early instructional performances recorded through photography or video bring the body and painting together in a way that lays the groundwork for McCarthy’s later, much more elaborate video performances such as ‘Painter.’
A&E, Table Stack, Santa Anita Session, 2 Channel
Paul McCarthy, Adolf Adam Lilith Stangenberg, Eva Eve
2-channel color video, Duration: 1:46:32 min, 2 monitors, Brightsign players, cords
About the artist
Paul McCarthy is widely considered to be one of the most influential and groundbreaking contemporary American artists. Born in 1945, and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, he first established a multi-faceted artistic practice, which sought to break the limitations of painting by using unorthodox materials such as bodily fluids and food. He has since become known for visceral, often hauntingly humorous work in a variety of mediums – from performance, photography, film and video, to sculpture, drawing and painting.
On view in New York
‘Paul McCarthy drawing, painting and as action, performance 1965 to 2021’ is on view now through 23 December 2022 at Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street.
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