"Well, for myself, I can only say that [humour] is to like the laugh, and wanting to laugh. I like to be around people who are making jokes, and constantly funny. Personally I like that. In my pieces I like the thought of mixing anarchy and humour. I think that these two things go together always." (P. McCarthy as quoted in Alexander Tovborg, "Interview: Paul McCarthy," ARoS, 2007, http://www.kopenhagen.dk/interviews/interviews/interviews_2007/intervie w_paul_mccarthy/)
Dead Viking of 1993, a favorite piece of its creator, Paul McCarthy, is a hilarious and uncanny sculpture, fascinating in its combination of childlike humor and eerie, compelling oddities. With the present work, McCarthy has added another truly inventive manifestation both of his fascination with the weird and of his exploration of our theme-park world and manufactured culture.
Dead Viking is an expression of the unstable humor that pervades McCarthy's art. It hangs out with its audience, sprawling across surfaces, using its comedic, human physicality to integrate itself into our environment. Its presence sparks chuckles, even as one remembers that the character is in fact lifeless. Dead Viking is a continuation of McCarthy's utilization of mannequins to explore the dichotomy between the animate and inanimate, real and virtual, natural and artificial, a practice first begun in 1967. McCarthy sees the human body as a metaphor for social convention and has repeatedly included himself along side his plastic models into an acts of bodily action and violation. Scattered throughout his oeuvre is the carnage of these dismembered figures. In his desecrations, McCarthy wreaks havoc with idealized childhood, using mangled, maimed, and distorted images to convey what he deems to be popular culture's repressed fantasies. McCarthy's work is an excavation of the ills of society that he sees deeply buried beneath the sheen of our plastic, manufactured world.
McCarthy's art makes tangible the comic and tragic effects of society's conditioning. Based in Los Angeles, his work revolves around consumer icons gleaned from his environment. Through his oftentimes violent and absurd performances, installations, and sculptures, McCarthy grapples with the intersection of the sanitized images produced by Hollywood and the dark underside of life in America. In Los Angeles, home to the production of shiny, pre-fabricated fantasies, McCarthy hones the tension between this produced perfection and the dark realities that exist underneath the surface. These contrasting elements of contemporary life fuel McCarthy's work, making him as such, the purveyor of many a difficult truth.
In its weirdly, perverse aesthetic, McCarthy's work stands alone in its exploration of the American psyche, twinned to that which the artist perceives. McCarthy embeds into his media-sourced imagery his own memories and internal angst. He sees his autobiographical characters as universal repositories of the fears, obsessions, and battles that contemporary humanity face and uses them to show his audience how we both consume and are consumed by the bizarre fruits of our commercial, Hollywood-driven culture.