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Island Expressions: John McCarthy

Aug. 4, 2008 — Little wonder that John McCarthy calls himself a pioneer in American "action-impact" abstract expressionist painting, as the splatters and splashes of paint he throws across the canvas recall the working method of that exemplar of action painting, Jackson Pollock.
Not that he set out to emulate Pollock. McCarthy said he happened to spill some paint on his porch one day, liked the way it looked and took it from there.
“I do not deny the accident — I embrace it," McCarthy said.
And while the resulting canvases remain abstract evocations of gesture, the drips and splatters also suggest imagery to him: a cow's skull in one, a black bee's head in another where strokes and splashes of pink, brown, purple, green, yellow and black burst onto the canvas.
McCarthy grew up in the Detroit area where he began dabbling in charcoals and pastels at a young age. But he didn't focus on it until after graduating from the University of Michigan in 1986 with a degree in philosophy and English.
Landing a job at an ad agency in New York, he took advantage of living in the capital of modern art by taking in work by Pollock, Paul Klee, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Joan Miro and Jean Dubuffet.
He had aspirations of writing and becoming "the American Camus" he said. In the late 1980s, he moved to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands to work as a reporter, then on to St.Croix in 1989 and The Avis newspaper and TV channel 8.
In the 1990s he developed his “wind scribbles” style where he allowed the natural action of the wind to convey the paint onto his canvasses.
He started out throwing and dripping on smaller canvasses, with mixed, and messy, results.
"Everything around me was getting slimed," McCarthy said. "It was a waste of paint and canvas."
He now works on three by four foot canvases with undiluted oil paints thrown straight from the tube. McCarthy said the violent throwing motion produces unintended effects on his paintings that he welcomes, as when the force and trajectory of one splash carries another color farther along the canvas.
He also creates craters in the paint by allowing rain to fall on it. And the warm climate on St. Croix helps keep the paint liquid and mobile.
McCarthy has recently expanded the work to include triptychs in which lines of paint continue from one panel to another, suggesting to him a novelistic story line.
"If I had my druthers I would rather not sell them," McCarthy said. "My last painting is always my favorite."
Nonetheless, he is shipping five paintings to the Aldo Castillo Gallery in Chicago for a September show kicking off the art season.
"I'm getting worried about shipping the paintings off," McCarthy said, "They're like children to me."
A partner in 4 Star Real Estate in Gallows Bay, McCarthy's paintings can be seen there by appointment by calling 719-4146 or by visiting absolutearts.com.
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