Action Figures

March 19th, 2014

Dan McCarthy’s  fifth solo show at Anton Kern Gallery features deceptively brushy new paintings and drawings, and more than thirty Facepots – McCarthy’s ceramic vessels pegged with facial features.

Dan McCarthy at Anton Kern Gallery (Image: Anton Kern Gallery)

These images look simple and iconic, yet highly expressive.  The titles derive from rock album titles, while McCarthy’s subject matter seems to focus on a universalized summer of love, where individuals dance and revel, play guitar, skate, and commingle with birds – most of this while naked.  Gender is evident through bare breasts and phallic guitars, but it feels like a loose suggestion. Everyone in the paintings seems gleeful, perhaps aglow with sexual liberation.  That’s less true in the drawings, where the aforementioned birds seem too close for comfort.

Through an innovative process, McCarthy transfers these images, like monoprints, from a painted to canvas to another one, which is slathered with layers of marbleized gesso.  His figures are luminous with Easter-egg hues that could convey emotional states, colored festival lighting, or the magic hour around sunset.  Either way, the colors transplant their bearers to a higher order, where origin and language lose priority to immediacy and joie de vivre.

Dan McCarthy, "Peach Tree," 2013 (l) and "Partridge Family," 2013 (r) (Images: Anton Kern Gallery)

That is not to say that they are beautiful by conventional standards of appearance.  McCarthy does not tantalize us with titillating curves, attenuated midriffs, and defined muscles, which we might anticipate when pondering a Rite of Spring or utopian summer festival.  Then again, ecstatic liberty and play are more beautiful features than chiseled abs, aren’t they?

But what utopia is not engineered?  The chromatic, dancing figures remind me of the Crakers, the genetically engineered post-humans of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.  Here is how Crakers mate:

“There’ll be the standard quintuplet, four men and the woman in heat.  Her condition will be obvious to all from the bright-blue colour of her buttocks and abdomen – a trick of variable pigmentation filched from the baboons with a contribution from the expandable chromosphores of the octopus. … Courtship begins at the first whiff, the first faint blush of azure, with the males presenting flowers to the females – just as male penguins present round stones, said Crake, or as the male silverfish presents a sperm packet.  At the same time they indulge in musical outbursts, like songbirds. Their penises turn bright blue to match the blue abdomens of the females, and they do a sort of blue-dick dance number, erect members waving to and fro in unison, in time to the foot movements and the singing: a feature suggested to Crake by the sexual semaphoring of crabs. From amongst the floral tributes the female chooses four flowers, and the sexual ardour of the unsuccessful candidates dissipates immediately, with no hard feelings left.  Then, when the blue of her abdomen has reached its deepest shade, the female and her quartet find a secluded spot and go at it until the woman becomes pregnant and her blue colouring fades.  And that is that.”  

Like the gift round stones above, the glossy Facepots supplement the action.  They smile mutely; they are Mr.-Potato-Head caryatids, or graven sock-puppet ancestral busts.  The bright colors and bite-size scale might remind a viewer of candy, peppers, and fruit while studying the eyes, noses, and mouths of these ceramic faces.

"Facepots" by Dan McCarthy (Images: Anton Kern Gallery)

Dan McCarthy at Anton Kern Gallery (Image: Anton Kern Gallery)

 The Facepots series also serves as a bridge to McCarthy’s drawings in the back (maybe an Anton Kern Gallery tradition).  Here, the birds seem ready, or at least capable, to menace the splotchy faces, pecking at the eyes and mouths.  One blue bird either kisses or pecks at the cheek of a pompadoured face with a Joker smile.  Similarly ambiguous rictus-to-rictus contact occurs between a crying face and a blue hummingbird.  Finally, a canary seems to scale the disheveled face of a redhead with blue tongue sticking out, as if that head is turned on its side.  Who trusts who more?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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