To make Mickey Mouse (2010), Paul McCarthy altered a found photograph—not of the iconic cartoon, but of a man costumed as Mickey. On his shoulders he supports an enormous false head, Mickey’s familiar face grinning with glossy eyes. The artist has marked out in heavy black the background of Cinderella’s castle. Robbed of his context, the character becomes the sole focus of the image, a subject of unusual scrutiny.
McCarthy’s Mother Pig performance at Shushi Gallery in 1983 was the first time he used a set, a practice which came to characterize his later works. Here, McCarthy squirts liquid out of a bottle held near his crotch onto a stuffed animal in the shape of a lion. The costuming, materials, and simulated bodily functions frequently appear in McCarthy’s work, which often disturbingly juxtaposes visceral and startling manipulation of the body with the cheerful artifacts of popular consumer culture.
Memory Mistake of the Eldridge Cleaver Pants was created for the show Paul McCarthy’s Low Life Slow Life Part 1, held at California College of the Arts’s Wattis Institute in 2008 and curated by McCarthy himself. In homage to an influence in his early career, McCarthy attempted to reconstruct a pair of pants worn by Black Panther revolutionary Eldridge Cleaver in a picture that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s.
Known for his transgressive performance art pieces that often challenge social conventions, Paul McCarthy is undoubtedly one of the main figures in the West Coast contemporary art scene. Using different forms from pop culture as source material, McCarthy casts a critical look at American society and consumerism. With a particularly poignant sense humor, his works also investigate the intricacies of human psychology.