Paul McCarthy (b. 1945)
Paul McCarthy (b. 1945)

Mountaineer Hummel (Puck Penisssss)

Paul McCarthy (b. 1945)
Mountaineer Hummel (Puck Penisssss)
signed and dated (on the reverse)
Inkjet print, oil stick, and glue on paper
82 x 42 in. (208.3 x 106.7 cm.)
Executed in 2009.
Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Zurich, Hauser & Wirth, Paul McCarthy, June-July 2009.


Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1945, Paul McCarthy developed a cult following for his self-obsessive performances in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. Almost always naked and sporting a clown-like red nose and rubber fingers in the shape of sausages, he presented himself in the guise of semi-recognizable personas-a dangerously clumsy chef, an incestuous dad, and most autobiographical of all, arguably, a trying painter. Part of an early generation of artists to combine performance and video, McCarthy recorded these actions at length, creating works that were extreme parodies on commercial television, popular children's movies, and the entertainment industry at large.

McCarthy's gory and scatological narratives, typically involving large amounts of ketchup and dismembered limbs, have come to define their own genre of performance art that is as physically vexing as it is psychologically intense. In the 1980s and 1990s, the artist increasingly embraced installation art, transforming sets created for live performances into immersive environments. Like his performances, these sprawling, complex landscapes often took their points of departure in contemporaneous Hollywood movies and vehemently exaggerated their intrinsic conventions and stereotypes.

In addition to such popular culture references, McCarthy's at once carnal and slapstick expressivity can be seen as a parody of previous decades' action painting and the predominantly macho movement of abstract expressionism. The artist's many personas typically combine the infantile with the mad in an overt attack on male authority. As the authors of the acclaimed book Art Since 1900: Modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism have put it, with his characters effectively mixing "young and old, human and animal, person and thing," the artist's fantasies, even when comic, "are usually obscene, darker than any precedent in American Gothic art or fiction, for again and again McCarthy shows the orders of both natural and cultural worlds in disarray, and all structures of identity--especially the family-in disarray."

In lockstep with his performance and installation-based practice, McCarthy has created paintings and works on paper that expand his fictive universe. In Mountaineer Hummel (Puck Penisssss) (2009), McCarthy depicts a gray hooded figure moving and twisting a yellow stick with his left hand (the direction of the movement is made explicit by various arrows). Images and words throughout the surface directly evoke male genitalia, while the title itself, with its multiple s's, ironically imply a degree of verbal excitement.

The drawing is part of a series of works by the artist that were influenced by the German production of "Hummels," small, idealized, decorative porcelain sculptures of young children based on the drawings of Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel in the early twentieth century. McCarthy transforms the "Hummels" into grotesque and obscene characters, substituting their celebrated innocence and purity with adulterated chaos. In line with the artist's darkly comical impersonations, Mountaineer Hummel (Puck Penisssss) takes its point of departure in popular culture and grossly exaggerates the myths, hidden fetishes, and perversities inherent in its various manifestations.
1Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, and Benjamin Buchloh, Art Since 1900: Modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004), p. 647.