Justin McCarthy (May 13, 2891 - July 14, 1977) Outsider/Folk Art
Justin McCarthy 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 their decaying mansion and sold vegetables they grew on the property to help support themselves. 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 but sold very little at this point. He tried various mediums but ultimately painted with oils.
Pictorially, McCarthy painted what he saw in the world brought to him through various media populating his artworks with glamorous people, exotic places, animals, and even religious imagery. His expressionist style is highly gestural with textural stokes. Later in years his work became slightly more abstract due to failing eyesight. His idiosyncratic work varies from uneven to remarkably coherent, and his work is considered by some to be one of the most important yet enigmatic folk artists of the mid-twentieth century.
He saw much during his lifetime – two world wars, the explosion of pop culture and media in America, and continuously changing political and fashion environments. He documented all of these themes and more in his distinct manner as he saw them. Tom Armstrong, Former Director of the Whitney Museum of Art states, “He was genuinely involved in the world he created, and his work was inseparable from the fantasy he saw in everyday life.”
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 continued to paint until his death 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.