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If you wonder what kind of art one of those post-pubescent internet Sillicon Valley tycoons would be interested in buying, I think artist Dan McCarthy might help us get to a conclusion. His art is childish and immature but might give us an insight into the psychology of this kind of ‘collector’. Everything about these images expresses a belief in irony as a psychological mechanism never to properly engage with another human being.

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For his fifth solo show at Anton Kern Gallery, Dan McCarthy presents new paintings, drawings, and a group of ceramic sculptures called Facepots. Figures and faces seem to be his subject matter. Although the gallery seems to make us believe that McCarthy is a painter’s painter whose intricate ‘working process channel the artist’s message of directness and supreme verve’, I think his approach to art is childish by trying to convey irony through incompleteness. 

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In his own words ‘ I apply marbleized gesso to a stretched number 10 canvas, first with a brush and later with a 14” cake decorating knife, in some cases applying up to 40 coats on a single canvas. Images are created by first making a painted image upon a canvas of similar size and pressing it face to face into the canvas with a prepared surface. Transferred, rinsed, stained, pin-striped and tweaked into place, the paintings are related to unique mono-prints. The marbleized ground creates effects and conditions that are specific to the materials: aquatint like washes, ghost lines and the registration of slight mark making. Most traces of direct handwork are removed through the process’. To say it simply, he takes great pain and effort to come across with a kind of work that cannot hold itself aesthetically unless its incompleteness is deployed as an index (or symptom, I would say) of ‘calculated hard work’. It is this kind of over-worked nonsense condensed into a childish image that might allow us to understand the kind of buyer that would find this kind of image appealing.

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There is no life in these images but a reassurance that life should be deferred through irony understood as a negation of sense. This is even more obvious in the rows of high-gloss colorful Facepots. According to the silly ninety-six page illustrated catalog published by Hassla, which includes texts by Mary Heilmann, Timothée Chaillou, and Carlo McCormick, ‘McCarthy wants his figures to come alive. They possess a presence and life-like spirit that suggests potential action; action appropriate to the artist’s utopian cast of characters comprised of bathers, skaters, dancers, bird-wranglers, philosophers, musicians, on the whole, muses and luminaries. Content and at ease with themselves, entirely free from anxiety, they’re ready to be given free rein to enter and illuminate our ordinary (slightly overcast) lives’. I wonder what the hell are Heilman, Chaillou and McCormick talking about for these pots are not animistic but try to convey some motion as if they were laughing or something like that. They are plain infantile. 

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What interests me, however, is that all the figures in this show have to do with the trades of post-industrial NY cultural life. With figures that dance, think, play, etc; McCarthy makes his version of the type of painting that in the XVII century was known as ‘trade images’ such as les cris de Paris or Carracci’s images of working men in Bologna. The difference between Carracci and McCarthy is that while the former used to be interested the human body as a tool for working in the new life of the city, McCarthy is interested in hiding everything from the viewer so as to protect him or her from any sort of exposure. If we think about it, this is analogous to Carraci’s intentions due to the fact that today’s digital economy download and deletes instead of connecting.  I wonder what he wants to protect the viewer from? Adulthood? Just a thought. 

Dan McCarthy
February 20 – March 22 

Anton Kern Gallery NYC