Paul McCarthy - Caribbean pirates, 2005 (with Damon McCarthy) Performance, video, Installation, photographs

The romantic world of Paul McCarthy

On Valentine's Day a conversation about beauty and truth with an artist always ready and willing to surprise. . .

Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know," John Keats famously wrote in his poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn - just one of many great odes he wrote in the year 1819.

We don't tend to associate the California artist Paul McCarthy with odes - ketchup bottles, butt plugs, animatronic George Bush's having sex, yes - odes no. 

But our forthcoming Contemporary Artist Series book on him features this exchange on the subject of beauty and truth. We're not saying it's a treatise of which Keats himself might have attempted in verse but we would like to share it with you on Valentine's Day. It's a snatch of a long and fascinating conversation between McCarthy and Duke University art historian and curator Kristine Stiles on the age old artistic conundrum of beauty and truth that so occupies and defines the creative moments of thinking artists. McCarthy kicks us off:

"I don’t know whether I associate beauty with truth. I mistrust the notion of truth – maybe beauty is recuperation, satisfied acceptance, as opposed to a fractured sensation and alienation. The notion of beauty is associated, I think, with the sublime – the sublime being tranquil. Do you think of beauty as associated with tranquillity?


Paul McCarthy
Paul McCarthy

Stiles: "No, with some value."

McCarthy: "That somehow it’s possible for humans to find value?"

Stiles: "That is truth, and we’ve called it beauty. It’s not truth with a capital T, because who knows what truth will be for any experience. It’s relative. But you seem to enter that space of reordering things in those transits in-between the acts of negation."

McCarthy: "I don’t know what you mean; I don’t know whether I agree or disagree with you."

Stiles: "Gratuitous violence – which is what I think you do in your actions – is compelling to see, especially when it’s symbolic. Because we live amidst so much violence, we are compelled to watch ourselves watching ourselves. But gratuitous violence will never sustain us."

McCarthy: "I don’t agree with you regarding gratuitous violence."

And you thought he just bad things to Barbie Dolls. Our Contemporary Artist Series book on Paul McCarthy shows the many sides of one of the most intriguing characters on the contemporary American art scene. Buy it here and check out some great Paul McCarthy limited editions, including some cool skateboards, at Artspace