Uncasting his funny bone: Ed McCarthy

Long Cat

Long Cat

“Mud” by Ed McCarthy
through April 25 at Shift

by Cynthia Hibbard

In diverging from his home base material steel to artist’s plaster in his newest work, sculptor Ed McCarthy has unintentionally lightened more than its heft.

The infectious whimsy predominant in his current show, “Mud”, may have taken McCarthy a bit by surprise, but he’s good naturedly accepted his visitors’ amused reactions to a roomful of fun.

When one man told him that his Lunar Module looked exactly like a block of Swiss cheese, McCarthy drolly replied, “Well, I’ve failed, then, because what I was going for was a block of Havarti.”

I try not to take myself too seriously in art or else it ceases to be fun.”

Said McCarthy: “I try not to take myself too seriously in art or else it ceases to be fun.”  He characterized his show as more of a “mishmash” of experiments that he made in learning a new medium than an intentional body of work.

But he knew he was onto something several months back when he created his first plaster piece, which looks exactly like a square-faced cat with attitude stretched long accordion-style. Appropriately, he named it Long Cat.

Healing

Healing

McCarthy moved to artist’s plaster, which he enthusiastically praises as a versatile medium–one that can be readily applied to armatures, sanded or carved like stone, and also seamlessly cast–after first working in cement.  When he assessed his cement sculptures, he concluded,  “these things were pretty damn heavy.”

What lured me to the material was looking at old black and white photographs of Hepworth, Giacometti, Moore and other sculptors working in their studios with plaster…”

By contrast he discovered the greater ease of working in mud, the common term for plaster,  allowed him to explore a variety of shapes, in both square and curvilinear forms.  However, some concrete and steel works that pair nicely with his plaster pieces are included in the show.

“What lured me to the material was looking at old black and white photographs of Hepworth, Giacometti, Moore and other sculptors working in their studios with plaster,” he said.

Urban Towers

Urban Towers

In Urban Towers, a handsome trio of wall-mounted pieces that are McCarthy’s favorites in the show, he said he employed casting procedures to make what seem like architectural models of a major city complex.  Other plaster pieces in McCarthy’s show are more open for interpretation. Both Farrier and  Healing can be seen more as fantastical representations from the animal kingdom than the abstracted concepts he intended them to be.

Farrier

Farrier

“I think a lot of people tend to like representational things more than abstractions,” McCarthy observed. “They are more attracted to things they recognize.”  Which is fine by him.

When asked whether Centurion, a collection of squat, warrior-like concrete forms perched on handmade steel stands that McCarthy thought were perhaps reminiscent of ancient Chinese tomb guards were in fact boxy cats without tails, he conceded, “They are whatever you want them to be.”

centurions

Centurion

Incidentally, one piece in the show, a dragon-like plaster figurine with a curved steel tongue called Gustav is in reality a repurposed broken piece from another sculpture.  No matter.  It joyfully sits atop an entry-way platform like a friendly but silent greeter and has been popular with every age set.

In one case it was inspiring.  An 8-year-old boy drawn to Gustav became excited about the possibilities of artist’s plaster as McCarthy explained to him how the piece was created.

“He was really interested and wanted to know everything about plaster,”  McCarthy said.  “He actually read my artist’s statement.”