Paul McCarthy: Painter


Paul McCarthy Painter [still from performance/installation] (1995)

Someone has uploaded the full 50 minute video from Paul McCarthy’s 1995 performance/installation Painter

This is Ulrike Groos’ description of Painter1.

“The video sketches a stereotype of the artist genius as a backward, behaviourally-disturbed, infantile eccentric incapable of normal human interaction, who disregards norms and rules since his only means of expression is in the obsessive, impulsive pursuit of his art.”

As an aside: Painting has subsequently become a part of McCarthy’s practice, separate but related to his performance and installation work. Here’s an example.


Paul McCarthy ‘Luncheon on the Grass’ (Déjeuner sur l’herbs) (2014) acrylic paint, collage and soft toys on panel with gessoed canvas 243.8 x 335.3 x 8.9cm

Back in the 1995 performance, McCarthy’s painter chants, “de Kooning, de Kooning” as if hoping to channel something (genius? critical success? a place in the canon?) from the late Abstract Expressionist. While not quite pastiche, the paintings produced during McCarthy’s performance bare some resemblance to some of de Kooning’s work.


Willem de Kooning Villa Borghese (1960) oil on canvas 203 x 178cm

The closest I’ve come to this kind of gestural abstraction was last year, doing an exercise from Wendy Ann Greenhalgh’s book Mindfulness & the Art of Drawing2 (in retrospect, this exercise also kicked off my interest in automatism). She suggests drawing with eyes closed, for between 10 – 20 minutes, on a “piece of paper … securely attached with masking tape to the floor, wall or table”:

“… with your eyes closed, you’re going to draw with your awareness on your whole body as you make marks. Drawing on a large scale will assist you in this, as drawing from one side of the paper to the other will require shifts in weight, movement of legs, back etc.”

I tried with acrylic paint and this was one of my results.


1512?? (2015) acrylic on cardboard 44.5 x 63.5cm

McCarthy’s Painter features a scene (at 34:36) with two art collectors describing their collecting history, which progresses chronologically from Constructivist El Lissitzky (1890 – 1941) and Abstract Expressionist / Colour Field painter Mark Rothko (1903 – 1970), through to Sigmar Polke (1941 – 2010), Markus Lüpertz(b. 1941) and (occasional McCarthy collaborator) Mike Kelley (1954 – 2012). It’s a stereotypically on-trend collection for the time, but also offers some context for the paintings made by McCarthy’s character.


El Lissitzky Proun 30-T (1920) oil on canvas 50 x 62cm


Mark Rothko No.36 (Black Stripe) (1958) oil on canvas 157.1 x 170.1cm


Sigmar Polke Laterna Magica (1988-96) artificial resin, lacquer, paint on transparent polyester fabric, verso/rector 134 × 154cm


Markus Luepertz Donald Ducks Heimkehr (1963) oil on canvas 205.7 x 205.7cm


Mike Kelley The Thirteen Seasons (Heavy on the Winter) #10: The Decay of Year End (1994) acrylic on wood panel 158.8 x 101.6cm

  1. Ulrike Groos, ‘Painter’, in Paul McCarthy: Videos 1970-1997, ed. Yilmaz Dziewior (Hamburg: Kunstverein in Hamburg/Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Koenig, 2003) p.145-6 
  2. Wendy Ann Greenhalgh Mindfulness & the Art of Drawing: A Creative Path to Awareness (Leaping Hare Press, 2015) p.32 

One thought on “Paul McCarthy: Painter

  1. Pingback: “Artistic freedom” and political control | dailydaub

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