Justin McCarthy

 

He was a prolific, complex, and enigmatic Pennsylvania artist who experimented with many different styles and subjects. He painted a wide variety of subjects over a fifty-year period. Movie stars, fashion models, sports figures, flowers, vegetables, and historic and biblical events all interested this prolific self-taught painter. Elements of fantasy that he found in everyday life appealed to McCarthy, and themes such as glamour, energy, and reverence, as well as satirical social commentary, all found a place in his work.Owing to the deaths of his younger brother in 1907 and his father the following year, his failed attempt to earn a law degree, and the collapse of his family’s finances,McCarthy suffered a nervous breakdown. He spent the years from 1915 to 1920 in the Rittersville State Homeopathic Hospital for the Insane in Allentown,Pennsylvania. There he began drawing and painting with pencil, pen, and watercolor in 1920, signing his drawings, especially those of glamorous women, with several pseudonyms, among them “Prince Dashing.”Upon his release from the hospital, McCarthy moved back into his family home in Weatherly, Pennsylvania. He expanded his use of art materials to crayon and oilsin the 1950s and 1960s, and to acrylics in the 1970s, drawing and painting on old file folders, Masonite, composition board, cardboard, and canvas. His works varied from delicate paintings of beautifulwomen to those executed in a more painterly, expressionistic style, characterized by broad brushstrokes, sharp color contrasts, intentional distortion, and abstraction toachieve vibrant movement and emotional intensity. Photographs and prints culled from newspapers, magazines, and books served as visual sources in some of hisworks. An oil on Masonite of 1964, Candlelight in Acapulco Ice Follies, pulsates with a rhythmic energy achieved by the bold patterning of the dancing men andwomen’s black, white and red costumes as well as the ambiguous figure-ground relationship. In a composition such as this one, McCarthy’s loose and vibrant brushwork communicate the joie de vivre of his subject.Additionally, McCarthy painted personalized versions of well-known paintings such as Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Loetze and The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. McCarthy, like the folk painter Jack Savitsky, was encouraged by Sterling Strauser, who collected his works and believed in his originality and artistic vision. Infailing health, McCarthy eventually moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he died in 1977. His paintings were shown along with the polychrome, relief carvings of theColumbus, Ohio, barber, preacher, and artist, Elijah Pierce, at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts in 1972. A solo exhibition of McCarthy’s work was mounted atthe Allentown Art Museum in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1985, and at the Noyes Museum of Art in Oceanville, New Jersey, in 1999.