Leslie Lovell, Savannah GA

Justin McCarthy -  Outsider/Folk Art

Justin McCarthy (13 May 1891 - 14 July 1977) was a self-taught American artist from Weatherly, PA where his family had massive wealth and reverses. His older brother and father sadly died within a year of each other in 1907/08. Justin was later institutionalized from 1915 to 1920 after a mental breakdown during law school. While there he began to create art. He would later say, when remembering this period in his life that “I forgot who I was.” In fact, Lee Kogan writes, ”While hospitalized, McCarthy began to draw, often signing his works with names like Prince Dashing or Gaston Deauville. He only showed his early work to his mother, who continued to be encouraging and supportive.

He returned home to live with his mother in the decaying mansion and sold vegetables they grew on their property.  He later took menial jobs after her passing in 1940.  Though he had begun to draw while hospitalized, he started painting in the late 1930’s and began to show his work at local art markets.

Pictorially, he had a predilection for glamorous women—movie stars, fashion models, and other celebrities. McCarthy's style is expressionist with a highly gestural and textural stokes. He painted on anything he could find lying around and experimented with acrylics, oils, watercolors, pencils, crayons, and other materials.  His idiosyncratic work varies from uneven to remarkably coherent, and is considered by some to be one of the most important yet enigmatic folk artists of the mid-twentieth century.

The most significant early "discoverer" and promoter of McCarthy's art was Sterling Strauser, painter and collector, who characterized his style as "naive expressionist”. The Strauser’s became tremendous advocates of his work, thereby including him in “Strauser Circle” of Savitsky, Gatto, Pry and Dieter.

McCarthy’s work was later included in major Museum . As time went on, his work became slightly more abstract due to failing eyesight, but he continued on until his death in Weatherly, Pennsylvania in 1977.

His work can be found in many important collections, including those of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, American Folk Art Museum, Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The New York Times has praised his paintings and drawings of gestural force and narrative interest. McCarthy's imagery anticipates the Pop art of the 1960s.

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