Jennifer C McCarthy, Outsider Artist, El Paso, Texas, USA
Jennifer C McCarthy, painter/outsider artist; El Paso, Texas, USA:
“I’m not sure where my images come from; it seems as if they already exist and I am just discovering them, excavating them somehow, with the pens, ink, paint, scratches. They seem to me very old stories.”
“My art reflects elements of both my inner life and how I perceive the collective psyche.”
“Over and over I am confronted with a raw vulnerability in myself and in others that reminds me of a wild animal, at times backed into a corner or snarling out in pain, sometimes gnawing on itself. There are yet other moments when its heart races as it breaths quick and shallow after snatching its prey and then pauses to catch its breath before its first bite.”
“I sense this creature lies much closer to the surface in each of us than we usually realize, and it is easily disguised by language and the trappings of civilization, by our work and self-defined identities. But when our interactions with each other approach intimacy, the wild creature is released, and it is a delicate, dangerous, powerful and beautiful force. Unfortunately, we run from it, in ourselves and in others, often at its first roar and miss the opportunity for true connection and mutual empowerment. The drawings are meant to evoke a sense of this wildness and drama.”
“Painting is a sanctuary for me. From all the thinking in my head, and taking in the news, and the realizations about how I failed as a parent today and last month and a year ago. And why do we spend so much time day after day doing things we know we’ll consider a waste of time when we’re on our deathbeds?”
“I started building the nest a couple of months after 9/11. The images of the people falling from the buildings reminded me of baby birds falling from the nests; and I had the urge to reach through the TV and catch the falling people with my hands. My mind raced to think of solutions to the problem of them falling to their deaths; and I saw images of a giant mother catching them in her breast, and then a giant nest, and then I thought of a giant nest to stand in place of the twin towers.”
“At the same time, my marriage was failing. My husband and I both had wanted so desperately to provide a two-parent household for our child, and we were screwing it up. I, who had never dreamed of marriage and motherhood, now wanted more than anything to make my son’s childhood ‘perfect.’ I guess as the whole nesting experience was failing inside, I literally tried to take it outside.
There’s a section from Byron’s “Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage” that catches the sense of failure, I think:
“I stopped drawing and painting in my teens, twenties; and of course, during that time was also very troubled, or as the shamans would say, my soul was lost. I have read a bit about ancient shamanism and about Jung’s interest in shamanism and the soul, and it makes so much sense to me–that inner turmoil is a soul sickness.”
“it’s interesting that before shamans become enlightened, they are sickly, fragile and troubled; and must undergo an ordeal in which they, in a meditative trance, watch themselves ritualistically dismembered and reassembled into stronger, healthier versions of their former selves, with powers of healing. The importance of first undressing oneself.”
“Even when I was quite young, I had constant dreams and trances and fever dreams of much of what I’m now learning is shamanic.”
“Anger is the predator from without, which I have internalized over time. The predator feeds on herself and sometimes on the flesh of those she loves as well.”
“But I think what we are is really not animal; it is really human, what we do is uniquely human. It’s cruel and degrading and it affects us deeply and that is how it is so human. Those things that we argue make us superior are the things that make as a maladaptive species. Not just our cruelty, but our ability to manipulate so much of our lives, our environment, each other.”
“The powerful have always used reason to convince others of the sanity and sensibility of their actions.
Wars are not brought about by our animal instincts.
Fear, hasn’t it mostly been fear? Fear justified with what? Reason. Logic. Rational thinking. Unemotional. Linear.
Spin, BS, propaganda. Sometimes reason can be very dangerous.”
“‘We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be,’ a quote by Mary Sarton.”
“The grandstanding is often an attempt to cover our basic instincts and often an honest attempt to conquer them; but perhaps they cannot be conquered and perhaps they ought not be. Perhaps we need to accept these instincts in ourselves.
I think animal instincts are both constructive and destructive as is nature, and the universe, but it is not immoral.”
“The animal is a powerful energy we need to hold on to, in ourselves and in others, even when it’s scary.”
[Note: this interview originally appeared in “Leaving Normal: the Journey,” which was part of a four-part series in which I interviewed several artists, writers and musicians.]
Visit Jennifer C McCarthy’s website: newoutsiderart.com.