Artist Paul McCarthy made "Painter" in 1995. This was the first video I ever saw of his performance work. McCarthy works in many other mediums including drawing, painting, and sculpture, which are all equally interesting to me. The grotesque humor, nightmarish costumes, and surreal characters in this performance are remarkable. Both a dark satire and a work of art, "Painter" will either make you run for the hills or become as obsessed with McCarthy's work as I am.
Although Painter satirises broader aspects of the art world, such as the role of collectors and dealers, its main focus is on the notion of the heroic artist, with McCarthy's character more reminiscent, in both appearance and behaviour, of a clown than a creative genius. At one point in the video he spins around chanting 'de Kooning' – a reference to Willem de Kooning (1904–1997), the Dutch-American artist who was a key figure in abstract expressionism, the movement that emerged in New York in the late 1940s and which has often been associated with a performative and intellectual approach to painting. In Painter McCarthy appears as a shambolic and career-minded artist, who performs strange rituals (such as mixing mayonnaise and ketchup with his paint) while remaining deeply concerned with money and status. In a further nod to perceptions of artistic behaviour, the way in which McCarthy violently cuts off his rubber finger may be an allusion to Vincent van Gogh's (1853–1890) famous amputation of his own ear, as the art historian Jennie Klein argued in 2001 (Jennie Klein, 'Paul McCarthy: Rites of Masculinity', PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, vol.23, no.2, May 2001, p.16).