John McCarthy works within the parameters of photorealism, creating paintings with illusionistic energy. He likes to play with irony and metaphor, and often incorporates elements from the history of art within the works. ‘The elements of detachment and lack of emotion that I am trying to incorporate in the work are crucial to representing a kind of tragic quality that seems to always accompany beauty and glamour.’
John McCarthy was born in Essex. He studied at St Martin's School of Art, London from 1996-97. He was selected for the BP Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery, London for which he won the Visitor's Choice Award in 1999. This led to successful solo and group shows in London in 2000 and 2001, followed by a group show in Los Angeles in 2003.
“For me, the paintings from reproductions in the 1960's by Malcolm Morley and Vija Celmins were a breakthrough. It opened everything up, following on from what Duchamp had done. Morley's claim that painting from a reproduction was 'painting from still life', was a statement that seemed to resonate. I want to experiment with that idea of taking a second-hand image and focus on it as an object. When I take an image from a magazine advertisement, I remove the text and information so that the original message is lost and the painting develops an ambiguity and becomes like a ghost. I try to find images of beautiful women who are photographed in a particular way; a kind of non-smiling vacant glamour, which fashionable magazines like to present. Once the image is selected, I screw the picture up and re-photograph it, adding new light sources to accentuate the creases, then crop it to fit the canvas. The image is then painted. The original image, with it's new information, becomes a painting of a piece of paper, rather than a portrait in the classical sense. The reinterpreted picture also gains fresh connotations associated with the fragility of paper and human existence. The elements of detachment and lack of emotion that I am trying to incorporate in the work are crucial to representing a kind of tragic quality that seems to always accompany beauty and glamour.” - John McCarthy