Simple is rarely all that easy. In fact, simplicity both as something for an artist to achieve as much as for the viewer to behold, can present a great deal of difficulty, or at least a real challenge if one is to imagine it as not so much an easy way out but a hard way in.
For Dan McCarthy, paintings are both these things, at once the solution and the conundrum when it comes to that matter of communication we call expression. For anyone who cares about painting, the virtuosity of what McCarthy does with this medium, and more specifically the way that the complexities of his craft and process project the ease of their appearance, presents something of a “moment” for how the reductive can contain far more than the sum of what is left unsaid.
Given the history of images, we could look to Dan McCarthy’s art as painting after reproduction. In the longer lineage of cause and effect, his work might more properly be located along the lines of alchemy and how for centuries distillation has been used as a way to extract the essence of various elements. Working through a related type of distillation and process, a unique clarity has emerged and this position requires an equally unique leverage system for its delivery.
Representational images have often employed inventive devises and painters have long been full of tricks in this regard. Most often these become guarded trade secrets, it’s only recently for instance that we come to understand the way in which Vermeer managed to seemingly paint with light, producing a kind of photorealism long before the advent of photography without any signs of line drawing or underpainting below the surface. We now know this was achieved through the use of a camera obscura lens and magnifying glasses.
Dan McCarthy apparently has no such qualms about sharing his technique, and certainly knowing it does little to diminish the uncanny aspect of his paintings. In short, McCarthy produces a painting with great rapidity and then immediately uses its surface paint to transfer the image to another canvas. The result is a copy, and also a one of a kind, a totally original and unique reproduction.
There’s ample room for failure in all of this—always a great aspect of chance for any artist to embrace—and a bunch of other associated strategies he employs along the way, which are in all honesty a little too complicated for this writer to accurately explain, but that’s hardly the point. The obvious question raised by his art (how the hell did he do that?) is secondary to the existential questions about art itself that is raised by this process.
With all the traces of the artist’s hand at a critical remove Dan McCarthy makes his sly nod to Pop Art and encompasses the problematic of our post-modern condition while allowing a deeply personal and intimate work of profound self-expression that is thankfully devoid of all the usual pop cultural references that clutters the work of others chasing after authenticity with stylistic clichés.
Considering the endless convergence of the copy and the original as they continually collapse into one another in this age of mass reproduction, McCarthy’s employment of paint as a hybrid of printed, stained, blotted and rinsed surfaces leading to infinite surprises, what ultimately matters far less than the “how” is the “why.”
In all aspects, what connects the very different modes of Dan McCarthy’s studio practice is that while he is creating surrogates made up of proposals, wishes, dreams and memories, the work becomes psychologically charged for not being quite as it appears. Like a retinal after-burn, the bright light we still see when we close our eyes, never the thing so much as the memory of it.
Dan McCarthy is so clever you can almost forget how smart the work is, what you will most likely take away when you walk from a room of his artwork–the rapid stream of consciousness drawings, the magically clumsy Facepots , the impossibly registered paintings–is never so much the details as the impression.
As Dan once remarked in conversation; “Images that have temperature and a sense of spirit are for me the most accessible and memorable, the vibe the image delivers then becomes it’s subject.”
Idiosyncratic, even eccentric, the simplicity and innocence is an expression of joy, and much like the generosity his art continuously evokes, never so much a rendering of how things are as a conjuring of how we might look at it. While perilously close to folk or outsider art, it’s just as proximate to post modern strategies and positions acknowledging that the particulars matter far less than how they are processed and felt.
Perhaps it is the duplication at work in the paintings themselves, but I cannot shake the feeling that somehow much of what we witness in Dan McCarthy’s art is a reflection itself.
There, in the sunrays of his Southern California youth diffused but raging bright, the DIY ethos of Seventies punk released as a studio practice for a new millennium, a grotesque we come to love as a special kind of beauty, a surfer rises ascendant on that precipice of flight occupying that same liminal space as the bir ds in his pictures or the even way his ceramics defy gravity, is the trace of having been there without having to go actually go back.
McCarthy substitutes primary experience with the poetics of remembrance. It’s remembrance as an act of the present tense rather than a return to the past that provides the greater conquest of gravity here, a sense of flight that imagines both the freedom and its most fragile frailty.