Quote and Credit

Quote and Credit


THE American Painter Justin McCarthy Annual I am not at the Outsider Art Fair Paris 2016 post

Justin McCarthy untitled Collection Jim Linderman

Justin McCarthy "The Last Supper" private collection Slotin Folk Art Auction

Justin McCarthy "Yankees Stadium" Private Collection

Justin McCarthy "Goodyear Blimp" Private Collection

"He didn't know he was painting quirky.  He thought he was painting straight."  So said Justin McCarthy's major benefactor the painter Sterling Strauser.  "People often found it difficult to believe that he was a self-taught naïve, because…some of his things look like Emil Nolde, some look like Milton Avery – people that he was not aware of at all. They look like Ernst Kirchner. Some of his watercolors look like Demuth. This is all purely accidental.”  Nancy Green Karlins (who wrote her PHD dissertation on McCarthy) writes: “McCarthy’s intense line, non-naturalistic color and exaggerated drawing are more characteristic of German Expressionism than of most eighteenth-and nineteenth-century American folk art…"

Art scholars have to explain the work of Justin McCarthy by placing him in context with other better known (and better trained) artists.  How else to discuss him?  There IS no appropriate context.  A little of this, a little of that, but really all one of a kind.  Once you have seen a few of his works, you will recognize them but you might not understand them.  Sterling Strauser (actually his wife Dorothy) saw them first sprawled on the grass in a Pennsylvania Town Square.  He recalled thinking how much he would like to see one of them in a frame.  They were priced high, as McCarthy knew he wasn't going to sell any, so why not?   He was a completely self-taught naive recluse who lived most of his long life in a depreciating mansion in Weatherly, PA. 

That is, when he wasn't in a mental institution. Sterling Strauser once told me "McCarthy cured himself through painting." Certainly he had the persistence and gumption to do it.  Evidence of his earliest work here shows it.

The earliest dates to 1915, while he was confined.  A primitive form only, in crayon, from a rudimentary sketchbook he created by gluing individual pages of drawings onto those already in a printed book.  "A Gibson Girl" is a purple shadow showing little or none of his promise.  It wasn't long until he progressed to the formal "Miss Moran" shown following from Galerie Bonheur.

Justin McCarthy "A Gibson Girl from the Follies" circa 1915 - 1920 Collection Jim Linderman

Justin McCarthy "Miss Moran" circa 1920 Galerie Bonheur
Justin McCarthy Private Collection

McCarthy came a wealthy family, but one with tragedy.  His father and brother died early and the young man's breakdown followed.  He tried to follow in his father's footsteps.  He tried law school but failed. There was some work over the years, including some time in the Pennsylvania Steel yards which resulted in a spectacular painting full of heat and smoke. 
Justin McCarthy Bethlehem Still Private Collection
His brother was favored growing up and young Justin was shy. One pleasant and persistent memory had to have been the visit he had to the Louvre in Paris.  Only the wealthy could afford a trip to Paris at that time, and they went.  He was apparently left alone in the museum, and it stuck.

As his early, primitive institutionalized drawings developed he signed them with pseudonyms but often didn't sign them at all.  

After some five years, he was allowed back home to the mansion his father had owned and remained there most of his life.  During this time(though no one but his mother had seen the work) he filled the house with astounding vibrant quick explosions of color. He was a prolific and fearless artist. The Great American artist. Nothing escaped his eye and he would paint anything. Eventually even the unused stove and the bathtub were filled with paintings.  Strauser describes piles of work in every room.

Justin McCarthy Private Collection

Justin McCarthy Private Collection

Justin McCarthy Private Collection

Justin McCarthy Private Collection

They are both absurd and beautiful. Sports figures drawn while watching television and filled with color later. Some from life but imbued with his own.The pages of National Geographic Magazine. Some remembered from the early motion picture projector his wealthy father had at the mansion.  Gallerist and curator Randall Morris once described McCarthy as having a "cinematic style" which may have developed as he was a young boy watching flickering images.  His quick "wet on wet" working technique may have been an attempt to capture them. It was a practice he continued his entire artistic life. I believe he succeeded. 

A range of works drawn from the web give some indication to his unusual style and complete mastery of color.  The artist created work from 1915 up to his death in 1977.

See Also:   
Gene Epstein "What Kind of Art is This?" Folk Art Magazine Winter 1992 Pages 51

American Folk Art Museum McCarthy collection

Nancy Green Karlins "Justin McCarthy" 1891-1977 The Making of a 20th Century Self Taught Painter Dissertation Ph. D. New York University 1986

Randall Morris "The Cinematic "I" : Justin McCarthy 1984 Noyes Museum

Early sketchbooks and memories of Sterling Strauser are in the collection of the Archives of American Art Smithsonian Museum of Art 

See also two books on Folk art Outsider art by the writer Jim Linderman HERE and HERE.
A few other posts in my unstructured and informal Outsider Art series are shown HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE   More or less.  Additional works by Basil Merrett are HERE.

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