Purple Magazine
— F/W 2014 issue 22

Paul McCarthy

Studio portrait in Los Angeles by ARI MARCOPOULOS

interview by DONATIEN GRAU
portraits by ARI MARCOPOULOS
Paul McCarthy may be the most radical American artist — the devil to Jeff Koons’s angel. He subverts what he calls “normality” through the use of transgression, regression, and repression and creates a “trauma theater” for the art world. Welcome to America’s dark side.


DONATIEN GRAU — You come from Salt Lake City, and your childhood has been a very important part of your work until today. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
PAUL MCCARTHY — It was a type of conditioning. Not too much different than a lot of conditionings in America at that time in the 1950s. But there were particularities to the environ- ment itself, which were related to the religion of Mormonism, a very repressed religion. Conservative and repressed — I didn’t understand the restraints at the time. It was simply my surroundings.

DONATIEN GRAU — When did you start feeling that repression?
PAUL MCCARTHY — I still feel the repression.

DONATIEN GRAU — When did you start feeling it?
PAUL MCCARTHY — In some ways I was aware of it by the ’60s, when I was a late teenager. It was very dif- ficult to pull myself out of it. A series of events led out of the repression. But the repression could have also caused the expression.

White Snow, WS, 2013 performance, video, photographs, and installation, photo by Joshua White

DONATIEN GRAU — Specifically, the way you were experiencing it at the time, even though you didn’t know you were experiencing it?
PAUL MCCARTHY — There was sexual repression for sure and repression in terms of the ability to think in cer- tain ways, the ability to see reality. It was all very one-dimensional.

DONATIEN GRAU — In what way?
PAUL MCCARTHY — Right and wrong and the explanation of reality with a constructed purpose, an absurd construction of reality.

DONATIEN GRAU — Did the moment when you started challenging the repression coincide with your begin- ning as an artist? How does that tie in together?
PAUL MCCARTHY — I think a number of things began to happen. I didn’t quite fit in. I was a bit off, you could say. There were some positive things about my childhood: My mother had wanted to be an artist when she was young. You could say she was politically liberal, concerned about others, and at the same time also repressed. My mother instilled a political view in me quite early. My father was a workaholic but a gentle, polite person. I never saw him read. The challenge to author- ity and to the institutions, educa- tion, and religion started happening in the early ’60s. I started speaking out in school and discovered the Beatniks.

Rebel Dabble Babble, 2011-2012, performance, video, photographs, and installation, photo by Joshua White

DONATIEN GRAU — And how did you become an artist?
PAUL MCCARTHY — It started near the same time. By the time I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, which must have made me somewhere around 15 or 16. I could draw. My mother could draw. It’s in the genes. I liked to draw. There’s a trigger. Drawing was a trigger for art. Also, I was severely dyslexic. My par- ents were happy that I found some- thing, anything.

DONATIEN GRAU — Your first works were drawings and paintings?
PAUL MCCARTHY — I made drawings, small sculptures, and paintings in high school.

DONATIEN GRAU — Were you draw- ing all the time, as you do now?
PAUL MCCARTHY — I was drawing quite a bit. I was interested in art, and I drew instead of taking notes in class. I began to identify art as something to aspire to, a kind of life expression — a philosophical expression.

Rebel Dabble Babble, 2011-2012, performance, video, photographs, and installation, photos by Joshua White

PAUL MCCARTHY — Well, I remember I made a series of drawings at that time, and looking back on them, they’re quite significant to me. At one point I made a drawing of a hill, a tree, a rope, and a bench. The rope was hung from the tree, and the bench was under the tree. For me it had to do with a realization of time, human time, from childhood to older age, not from birth to death, which is a bit cliché. Also I made a drawing of a man staring out of the picture plane, staring at the viewer, and behind him was a hole in the ground, a rectangle with no visible bottom, a void. That was in 1960, about the same time as the Henry Moore sculpture; I made a small sculpture that resembled a Henry Moore, but with an emphasis on holes in the body of the sculpture. It was also headless and armless. The expression of time, death, the void, and the unknown started in the early ’60s in high school when art became part of my life, possibly a change in my consciousness.

DONATIEN GRAU — Did you believe in God?
PAUL MCCARTHY — It was instilled in me.

DONATIEN GRAU —To what point?
PAUL MCCARTHY — God and damnation were potent threats. But then began the questions: How do you get something from nothing? And infinity? For me these aren’t God questions. They’re questions of an unknown, a phenomenon of exis- tence that you can’t grasp. Why is there anything? Where does it end?

Rebel Dabble Babble, 2011-2012, performance, video, photographs, and installation, photos by Joshua White

DONATIEN GRAU — And when did you stop believing in the almighty God up in heaven and start getting into the unknown?
PAUL MCCARTHY — These questions all started for me in the late ’60s, early ’70s. They were troublesome, existential questions that I became obsessed with. In 1965-66, I made these dark paintings of authority figures with motors for stomachs. I was also taking the rectangle, the paint- ing, and dividing it into sections, rooms. I think this is related to dyslexia, organizing concepts spatially, a type of mapping, a floor plan. The upper dominant space was always occupied by a male figure. His face was covered in a mask. The structure division was like Byzantine paintings.

DONATIEN GRAU — How do you envision them?
PAUL MCCARTHY — Possibly I was processing the past, but these black paintings were similar in some ways to the drawing notes that I make now. Often I’m talking, and I draw circles and squares and boxes with notes in them and lines connecting them. I refer to them as conversation drawings. The drawing is some sort of illustration of the conversation. The divisions are similar to an architectural plan of rooms, but they are not symmetrical. They grow in all directions, and the center or beginning is lost.

DONATIEN GRAU — And what does it have to do with dyslexia?
PAUL MCCARTHY — Well, I’m not sure, but doing this keeps me focused. It’s a visual orientation of language and thought.

Caribbean Pirates, 2005, performance, video, photographs, and installation, collaboration with Damon McCarthy, photos by Ann-Marie Rounkle

DONATIEN GRAU — Why did you stop caring about God?
PAUL MCCARTHY — There was a long period in which it was just put to the side. It was no longer an issue. So much of religion is based on fear.

DONATIEN GRAU — And what kind of fear do you have?
PAUL MCCARTHY — What kind of fear did I have back then? Fear of “damnation,” then it became the fear of existence.

DONATIEN GRAU — Sexuality is also very present in your early work. How does the relation to the fear of damnation play out?
PAUL MCCARTHY — There’s an initial thing, which was fairly short-lived during the ’60s and has to do with some sort of religious iconography: the triptych, the central male figure, a sort of godlike thing, Christ on the cross, a totem structure. But this figure was often related to a machine form with a mask, a gas mask. It’s almost like you took a car or a dragster, you tilted it up, and you looked at the body of the car from an aerial view; but in the figure, the driver would sit in the back at the top of the painting, a quarter-mile dragster. The man’s body was a machine, a phallic symbol. They were always surrounded by these pin-up drawings of ’60s bikini beach girls. Then later, [my wife] Karen was posing nude with her legs spread, the female crotch, the vagina, the genitals. All within boxes that are like rooms. It’s interesting to me how those subjects of archi- tectural rooms, nudity, the mask, the genitals, have reappeared over the years. But the structure of the painting and the imagery is religious. The minimal sculptures were about encasing: isolating the void, Dead H and Skull with a Tail.

Caribbean Pirates, 2005, performance, video, photographs, and installation, collaboration with Damon McCarthy, photos by Ann-Marie Rounkle

DONATIEN GRAU — Why did you want to have that void area?
PAUL MCCARTHY — It was some­ thing that was outside of us and part of us that we couldn’t access, an unknown — existence itself being a phenomenon of an unknown. Religion for me was replaced by existential philosophy or phenomena.

DONATIEN GRAU — And what was your political awareness then?
PAUL MCCARTHY — I remember a fight breaking out in a parking lot, and my father was very moved, almost to the point of being sickened by it. It had an effect on me, violence, the fight, and my father’s reaction, the issue of racism, and the war in Vietnam in 1965, ’66. By that point, I’d become politicized, and the art department at the University of Utah was quite political in the late 1960s.

DONATIEN GRAU — How political?
PAUL MCCARTHY — Marxist. A young group of teachers who were very active politically formed the Peace and Freedom Party within the art department. I was interested in social and political art. I never reg- istered for the draft, so they couldn’t find me, but in ’69 they found me when I graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute. I was drafted but refused induction during my physical. That started a long chain of events, and by ’73 I was declared a conscientious objector. But my case actually ended up in the Supreme Court because I was asked a hypothetical question which was deter- mined to be unconstitutional.

Caribbean Pirates, 2005, performance, video, photographs, and installation, collaboration with Damon McCarthy, photos by Ann-Marie Rounkle

DONATIEN GRAU — Which was?
PAUL MCCARTHY — What would you do if the enemy was coming into your house? And I said: They’re not. My case fell under others at that time, a class-action case.

DONATIEN GRAU — And the late ’60s, that’s also the moment you made your first performances.
PAUL MCCARTHY — Yes, late ’60s, ’67.

DONATIEN GRAU — How did you come to want to make performances?
PAUL MCCARTHY — I’d been making these paintings, and I was burning them. They were done as actions.

DONATIEN GRAU — Why were you burning paintings?
PAUL MCCARTHY — For a number of reasons. The effect of the burnt sur- face, the black burnt surface, turned them into something I couldn’t paint, whether it burnt a hole or whether it peeled the paint. There was a surprise element in all that and a uniformity to it that I liked; and the action of doing it was a performance, an event. They were done outside, flat on the ground.

KAREN MCCARTHY — What happened to the burned paintings?
PAUL MCCARTHY — I destroyed most of them. I burned them, and I left some in my grandparents’ garage. Who knows what happened to them. In Ma Belle I used motor oil, and in 1972, with In the Stomach of the Squirrel, I used mayonnaise, choco- late, and motor oil.

Caribbean Pirates, 2005, performance, video, photographs, and installation, collaboration with Damon McCarthy, photos by Ann-Marie Rounkle

DONATIEN GRAU — And the performances, how do they tie into this whole minimalist moment?
PAUL MCCARTHY — At the time, it was all an experimentation of Minimalism and Pop Art. I began to be aware of Metzger and autodestruction and also experimental films, not European so much. Stan VanDerBeek, Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, and Warhol, Yoko Ono as well as Donald Judd, Tony Smith, Frank Stella, and Allan Kaprow. It’s all a big stew. I was also making films in 1966.

DONATIEN GRAU — What kind of films?
PAUL MCCARTHY — First I made a film, a narrative about a man who lived in a chicken coop, very absurd, and a film of a woman putting on make-up in slow motion, but then it becomes more structural and about repetition.

DONATIEN GRAU — And when did you start feeling like you wanted to be in the work itself?
PAUL MCCARTHY — Very early in the ’60s. I would get on top of the paintings that I was burning flat on the ground and beat them with a hammer. At that time, in 1966-67, I did a performance where I des- troyed furniture on stage.

DONATIEN GRAU — Why did you do that?
PAUL MCCARTHY — I knew of Metzger and Ralph Ortiz. It’s right around the same time I jumped out of a window at the University of Utah as an homage to Yves Klein, but I had never seen the images of Klein’s leap. I also made a remake of a Bruce Conner film. It was the same period that I became inter- ested in the displaying of a dead horse as a sculpture. That whole period was an experiment.

Studio portrait in Los Angeles by ARI MARCOPOULOS

DONATIEN GRAU — Your work is often associated with transgression. Is it something that was part of the way you saw things then?
PAUL MCCARTHY — It’s a way of questioning normality. Transgres- sion, regression, repression: it’s just another way to crawl out of a hole.

DONATIEN GRAU — And using your body as a material: You wanted to use your body and to use it in a rather extreme fashion and actually challenge yourself in that sense?
PAUL MCCARTHY — In the early ’70s, it started with pieces where I would be alone in the studio, in the basement. I would intuitively do an action. Often it would be repetitive, and then I would realize something about it. I would develop it. Spitting on the camera and spinning were not related to persona. They were related to the body and involved repetition. I would try to spin for an hour. I was the object for the most part. But in 1970 I did Ma Belle. We had a studio in downtown LA. I adopted a persona, a witch, to put a curse on LA. I told the person who was doing the video to not show my head, just my body. It was a way of hiding my face and head. It was an improvisation involving motor oil, cotton, and a telephone book. It was my first persona piece. It was a type of narrative. And then shortly after that, I did In the Stomach of the Squirrel, and that started a series of improvisations revolving around a persona and using liquids: paint, oil, ketchup, mayonnaise, shit, and masks. That all continues to this day. It begins with Ma Belle and In the Stomach of the Squirrel, and goes all the way up to White Snow.

ONATIEN GRAU — You just mentioned mayonnaise, ketchup, and shit. That’s the element of scatology. When did you actually start bringing it in? Also, why and how?
PAUL MCCARTHY — Well, it happens in a few of the structural films in the beginning. I think I use motor oil and grease as if it’s blood and shit. I also made these floor pieces in 1970. I thought of them as painting. I put paper on the floor, big rectangles of paper 8 x 15 feet. I poured used black motor oil all over the paper, making a painting.

White Snow, WS, 2013, performance, video, photographs, and installation, photos by Joshua White

DONATIEN GRAU — Where did the food element come from? Was it another way to use colors, another palette?
PAUL MCCARTHY — Yes, I think in color, paint, and body fluids. Red, white, and brown.

PAUL MCCARTHY — It’s like shit. Food is connected to my family, con- nected to culture in a way that paint isn’t. Paint is specific to artists; food relates to the table — sitting at the table, the father, the mother. My father put ketchup on everything, and it’s blood; mayonnaise: sperm; chocolate: shit. There’s an element of disgust.

DONATIEN GRAU — You once told me, half-jokingly, that every artist has material, and that your mate- rial is shit. So where does that come from and when does that unfold?
PAUL MCCARTHY — Shouldn’t I paint a painting with shit? The substance that comes out of me: using my face and my body as a paintbrush, painting with shit. It just seemed like, why wouldn’t you take it there? I didn’t know about the IRA prison- ers; I didn’t know about Günter Brus. It just made sense, the same with painting with my penis. They were just very direct reactions to the question: Why not? And also they were painting jokes or shit jokes, jokes on painting. Wanting to regress, I thought: I will be dirty. I believed in the image.

DONATIEN GRAU — Painting with your penis and using shit, real shit, is something different from using ketchup, mayonnaise, and choco- late. How do you deal with the two of them?
PAUL MCCARTHY — There’s some- thing about going from one to the other. I mean I guess there are lines that I draw. I’ve made pieces where I’ve cut myself. Shit is just so accessible.

DONATIEN GRAU — Would you make works with blood?
PAUL MCCARTHY — I have, and real shit.

DONATIEN GRAU — Scatology has to do with the abject. Where does the abject come from?
PAUL MCCARTHY — There’s a relationship with the substance of shit, the substance of paint, and the substance of food. Shit smells and is warm when it’s fresh and comes out of a hole in the body; and the color. It’s all quite interesting, right?

DONATIEN GRAU — Do you want to bring the abject up?
PAUL MCCARTHY — Well, yes. Death and rotting, they connect to aver- sion, to shit.

White Snow, WS, 2013, performance, video, photographs, and installation, photos by Joshua White

DONATIEN GRAU — But unlike the Viennese Actionists, it was mayonnaise not sperm, ketchup not blood; there seems to be something that had to do with the notion of the persona that would be fake somehow.
PAUL MCCARTHY — Ketchup was fake blood, and it was food, and it was my father, and it was liquid as an abject substance, and it was paint, not just liquid but a goo. And then it was shit. It was consumerism. It was Americana. It was all that. I grew up in America.

DONATIEN GRAU — And you wanted to rebel?
PAUL MCCARTHY — I think early on as a result of the shift in the ’60s, I accepted a social-political view of art as a questioning of the situation. I was reading Samuel Beckett and Joyce. The questioning of our conditioning, questioning culture, the conditioned reality, existence as an absurdity.

DONATIEN GRAU — The notion that it’s fake is very important in your early work and in your work overall. It’s always a persona, and it’s not real.
PAUL MCCARTHY — The early videos had to do with the real, the con- crete. It’s very much part of the art dialogue at the time, especially in California, with Chris Burden and Tom Marioni — the men who referred to their performance work in terms of sculpture, but not so much the women. They weren’t so interested in the material attach- ment. When I started the persona pieces, and when I started using ketchup, the fake became the issue — that was a shift. I acted out the psychological drama with objects, with material to produce a type of trauma theater.

DONATIEN GRAU — Trauma for you or for the audience?
PAUL MCCARTHY — For me and the audience, maybe. Maybe not.

DONATIEN GRAU — And how did you live through the performances?
PAUL MCCARTHY — It wasn’t about art as therapy, although I can say I was affected by these actions. And yes, my view of life changed because of them, but I didn’t think about it at the time, nor do I now, as therapy. I wasn’t interested in being cured.

White Snow, WS, 2013, performance, video, photographs, and installation, Park Avenue Armory installation view, photo by James Ewing

DONATIEN GRAU — You’re someone who’s fascinated with art history. From the beginning, this was really an important part of your work. And you said the primary motive is for you to be part of that art history, of these traditions.
PAUL MCCARTHY — I would say that it’s being part of a language or a network.

DONATIEN GRAU — Regarding the hundreds of photographs of performances, they have to do with a very important part of your work, which is your energy. Why did you want to do so many?Why was there this idea of doing so much?
PAUL MCCARTHY — A series. There’s something beautiful about it, the grouping — it shows time, change.

DONATIEN GRAU — Repetition.
PAUL MCCARTHY — Repetition, narrative. One thing leading to another. The evolution of something, the picture.

DONATIEN GRAU — Hollywood became important material for your work. Why Hollywood?
PAUL MCCARTHY — There was a long period of time where people would ask me whether I was influenced by LA, and I would say: I don’t think so. But that’s not true. I was very influenced by this place, and I think I was drawn to Hollywood and media, not because I wanted to be a part of it. I was interested in it as vile material. LA was an odd place. San Francisco wasn’t as interesting for Karen and me. LA had a mix of cultures, and even the smog was interesting to me. We came here in 1970, a new world, more fucked up than New York, more interesting to me: media, Disneyland, Hollywood. We lived in Echo Park and spent a lot of time in Hollywood, in the street activity of Hollywood. The ugliness of Hollywood. [The video performances] Meat Cake and Sailor’s Meat are related to Hollywood. The initial inspiration of Sailor’s Meat was a photograph bought at a Hollywood store, which sold 8 x 10 black-and-white PR photographs from movies. They had boxes of them, and you could thumb through them. I bought a lot of photographs from this store. I liked them a lot. I bought one from a film called Europe in the Raw. I didn’t know at the time, but it was from a Russ Meyer film. I was interested in the image, which was of a woman lean- ing back on a bed, and if you turned it 90 degrees, she resembled a figurehead that would be on the front of a frigate, a boat. I equated the water and the ocean with the void and the subconscious. The representation of the woman on the figurehead of the boat stood for the guide into the void or the subconscious. Sailor’s Meat was all about that. The sailor, the figurehead, entering the void.

DONATIEN GRAU — What about your collaborations with other artists, such as Mike Kelley and Jason Rhoades?
PAUL MCCARTHY — Mike and Jason come from two different generations. Recently I was on a panel about Mike, and I talked about the synchronicity of our work: I started using stuffed, toy animals in my performances in the mid-’70s, as if they were characters, personalities, my father, my mother, fantasy. I would buy them at thrift stores, big ones, little ones, and then at one point in the early- to mid-’80s, I started using them as paint- brushes. In the late ’80s Mike and I became interested in each other’s work over common themes — music, toys, and art history. We decided to do something together.

Studio portrait in Los Angeles by ARI MARCOPOULOS

DONATIEN GRAU — When was that?
PAUL MCCARTHY — In 1987 I had the opportunity to make a videotape at a television studio. I asked Mike if he’d want to do it with me. We didn’t know each other well. He asked me what I wanted him to do. I said: Why don’t you be the boy, the son, and I’ll be the father, and let’s see where it goes. After that we did collaborations off and on for nearly 20 years — performance pieces, video, video installations. A lot of times ideas formed through a casual conversation about mutual interests; there were a lot of jokes. We had this long telephone conversation about how beautiful performance artists were in the early ’90s — including Matthew Barney — how hand- some they were, and the number of women performance artists at the time. We came up with this idea: Why don’t we have beautiful people remake Vito Acconci’s video performances in a house in the Hollywood Hills? A type of Acconci commune in Los Angeles. The idea started as a conversation, a joke, and at the same time it was a critique of the art world. That telephone call formed Fresh Acconci.

DONATIEN GRAU — What about other performances you did with Mike Kelley, like Sod & Sodie Sock?
PAUL MCCARTHY — We realized that we both had an interest in the comic Sad Sack. Our interests in the subject were completely different. Mike had read Sad Sack when he was young. He liked the stupid humor and the scatology of dirt. My interest had come from a Sad Sack comic book that a friend had given me, a very racist propaganda book about the Japanese. The comic was distributed to American GIs during World War II. And then there was Heidi. I’d been interested in Heidi for a long time, and I wanted to remake it in the Alps — I still do. Mike and I had already done Family Tyranny. A group of LA artists, including Mike and me, were asked to be in an exhibition at Ursula Krinzinger Gallery in Vienna. I’d already started to work on Heidi and was asking Ursulatofindmeahut,achaletin the Alps. Mike had this thing about Adolf Loos. So the collaboration happened. We made a schizophrenic structure, the set for the video. Half of it was fashioned after the Adolf Loos American Bar in Vienna, reductive modernism, and the other half was the Heidi mountain chalet. Mike became very attached to the sick girl and to Peter, and I was attached to the grandfather and Heidi. These collaboration pieces came up every few years. There were also a number of synchronicities over the years. When I made the White Snow video installation I had put the 3⁄4 scale set of my childhood home into the set of the forest, and I had this idea of an underground. I didn’t realize that Mike had an underground in the trailer house resembling his child- hood home that he had shown in Detroit. That was an odd thing, both of us dealing with our own child- hood homes and both of us having an underground. These coincidences happened four or five times, where we just crossed paths in very strange ways.

DONATIEN GRAU — And the other collaboration was with Jason Rhoades.
PAUL MCCARTHY — All through school, Jason was involved in collaborations with other students, and a number of them involved me. I was close to the twins Rachel and Toba Khedoori. Rachel was married to Jason Rhoades. There were a lot of conversations around art, and they were very aware of contemporary art history, from Duchamp to Dieter Roth. I had included Jason — who was probably still in graduate school — in an exhibition, “Up the Down Staircase” at Rosamund Felsen gallery. The other artists were Roth, Barbara Smith, Allan Kaprow, Franz West, and Elaine Sturtevant. The first actual collaboration was when he asked me to do drawings for a piece he was making about video games. Then we did Propposition. For Jason, it had to do with Helvetica and Switzerland. For me it was the position of the prop, which involved layers.

DONATIEN GRAU — How did that come about?
PAUL MCCARTHY — It began with a type of performance to raise money as a joke. We invited these deal- ers that we knew, Iwan Wirth from Hauser & Wirth and David Zwirner. Then we asked people to pretend to be executives from Disney corporation and Paramount Pictures. We set up a meeting at The Peninsula Hotel, where we gave a presentation, and from there the piece grew for several years with multiple stages, installations, and video. It grew over time. The presentation was the proposition. We would propose that they invest in us. What we were offer- ing was our interests, which would include real estate, video, films, objects, toys. This presentation, of which these dealers are the primary focus, is for them: it was a hoax, the Trojan Horse was a Ferrari. We told them we needed to buy a Ferrari, and we would go into Hollywood with our Ferrari. This was a joke. But Iwan Wirth and David Zwirner were not sure what was going on. They didn’t know whether it was real or fake. It was too ludicrous. There was a point where we had a break, and we went upstairs to a room for drinks and snacks. We went out on the balcony. Right across from the balcony, in another bedroom, we had a porno film being made. We explained to the dealers that this happens every day in Hollywood. You can be part of this. We can make money in this form of entertainment. And then we escorted them back downstairs, and the people who were making the porn came downstairs, and started filming us. At one point we popped the question: How much money will you give us? You should each give us $50,000, we suggested. You should each give $100,000 or $200,000. They did invest. We produced the installation Propposition, and we began to make a feature- length 35mm film called The Viper, which was never edited.

DONATIEN GRAU — What about all the work you’ve made about Disney? What’s that about?
PAUL MCCARTHY — Disneyland is this fantasy world, an amusement park, a medium, the rides, the idea of entering the fantasy, the fantasy of going to heaven… all with this fascist cleanliness, this notion of perfection, which is a singular sugar signifier of America.

DONATIEN GRAU — You create deliberately beautiful and deliberately ugly images. You once told me that you don’t want to do cute. That’s the thing.
PAUL MCCARTHY — You know, cute is a weird one: cute can be ugly. You can recontextualize cute.

DONATIEN GRAU — You’ve also played a lot with the narrative of fairy tales and re-inhabited them. Is it the same thing for you: fairy tales on parallel with Disneyland in a way?
PAUL MCCARTHY — Yes, but I guess my fascination with fairy tales has to do with the character caught up in a situation or in an environment. I’m rarely interested in the entire fairytale. It seems that usually I am only interested in parts of the fairy tale.

DONATIEN GRAU — You started talking about increasing the size of your studio. A very interesting thing about you is that at the beginning, you had all these ideas that you couldn’t do because, of course, you didn’t have the money to fund them, and you were struggling and trying to find that money to fund your projects. And now, today, your studio is gigantic. You’re building a second one; you’re building a whole town. How do you think this has affected your work?
PAUL MCCARTHY — More hap- pens. More work happens through a system. I will work on some- thing, and it’s sent off. Pieces can continue to go through elaborate changes or experiments. You have these pieces that continue to grow quite large in scale. I’m okay with it. Which not all artists are. I’m okay with the process of engaging other skilled and unskilled people. And then there are the drawings, the paintings, the performances, in which I’m directly involved. The large performances are collectives. I became interested in appropriating a Hollywood studio, making a Hollywood studio, a ­movie studio as a sculpture.b How long does it continue? That’s the question. How long can I keep it up? A studio that simulates a sound- stage, an abstraction of a sound- stage. I want it to be that you can no longer tell where the piece ends and the architecture begins.

DONATIEN GRAU — You just mentioned the Hollywood studio. It has to do with culture: in many ways, your work has been dealing with a kind of counterculture. And how do you feel with the fact that it’s enter- ing established culture today?
PAUL MCCARTHY — I think about the art world and commodity and that I have made a machine with it. It is a concern.

DONATIEN GRAU — But don’t you find it interesting, the fact that you’re trying to deconstruct culture and that you’re entering it at the same time?
PAUL MCCARTHY — My work exists in different worlds within the art world. There are sculptures and drawings that can function. Then there are installation pieces that are too difficult to be collected.

DONATIEN GRAU — How do you feel about working in series and constantly playing on the same patterns and constantly evolving?
PAUL MCCARTHY — Well, the way I work there’s a central spiral and then there are spin-offs. The spin- offs are the pieces that come off of the spiral, the central spiral of Stagecoach; the central spiral of White Snow. There are spin-offs from Stagecoach: drawings, books. They just happen. What happened in White Snow begins to spiral into what happens in Stagecoach. They link up.

DONATIEN GRAU — Do you see your- self as a multimedia artist or as a painter, or as both?
PAUL MCCARTHY — I think of myself as an artist who uses different media. Performing, sculpture, paint- ing, drawing, video — I can employ the same process with each one.

DONATIEN GRAU — Do you want to be shocking?
PAUL MCCARTHY — I think I want to make work that has intensity. I don’t spend too much time think- ing or analyzing my position within the art world. So much of the pro- cess is about the piece and its construction and what happens, the people that are in it and what the piece does. It’s the same system as back in 1972-73. I’m operating in the same way. I am very interested in the piece I am working on and in the next piece, the future work.


[Table of contents]

F/W 2014 issue 22

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON





purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple SEX

purple NIGHT

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