.WE LIKE SPEED."
PAUL McCARTHY INTERVIEWED BY
JOHN BEAGLES AND GRAHAM RAMSAY
interview took place in the restaurant at Tate Gallery, Liverpool, 18th
October 2001. Paul McCarthy was taking a break from the final adjustments
to the installation of his first major retrospective show in the UK. We
joined him for a drink along with Tracey Ruddell, from the Tate Press
GR/JB: One of the first things that we wanted to ask you was how you felt
about the way your work is written about, specifically in terms of Kristeva,
the abject and that whole psychoanalytical take on it? It sometimes feels
like a way for the writers to make it intellectually respectable to themselves.
PM: It kind of goes both ways, there are people who just dismiss the work
and just talk about it as being abject and not trying to analyse it, but
just being dismissive. Then there are writers who are more analytical
about it. Im into it both ways because thats kind of how its
made. Im not trying to make it psychoanalytical but then at the
same time I am.
JB: On the train we were reading a non-too-flattering article about your
work by Donald Kuspit in which he accused you and Mike Kelley of lacking
critical distance. I think this is kind of interesting as over the last
ten years there have been a lot of artists who have also been accused
of this. Artists who have wanted to have some critical purchase
but at the same time have stressed their own entanglement and immersion
within their subject.
PM: I remember that Donald Kuspit article and I was kind of into it and
I was thinking this is pretty interesting. (Laughter)
GR: He was giving you a telling off. (Wags finger)
PM: Yeah, he was saying youre full of shit but thats pretty
interesting. I kind of like that article (Laughs) but I was shocked that
he wrote that much, and felt that he had to somehow put it in place. But
for me he just confirmed everything he said it was not.
GR: I get the impression it was written pretty quickly, with forceful
typing and a certain amount of anger.
PM: Yeah, like he saw the show, ran home and was really pissed. I gotta
stop this now! Theyve gone too far! Theyre making too much
GR: Getting rich from shit. Perhaps you can speak about the way you use
your performances, and yourself, within your work and how thats
changed from the 1970s to the present day. There do seem to be some constants
there but it has also changed quite a bit as well.
PM: Well, there was a period in the 1970s when there were pieces
about duration, repetition, task and all those kind of words that were
used at that time. Those works were made in a room by myself, and I was
into repetition and this sort of obsessional stuff. In1972 I made a tape,
"Ma Belle", in which I make this laugh and there is this persona.
So, its not exactly like I was making these repetitive, minimal
pieces until 1978 and then I switch over to these more theatrical works
with personae or fractured narratives of some sort. It was really much
more a case of these concerns overlapping as I continued to make these
repetitive pieces where I spit on the camera for an hour, or something,
up to 1976. The narratives had begun by 1972 but even prior to that I
had made narrative films in the sixties which dealt with personae, an
established character of some sort and costumes.
JB: Did those films involve just you, or actors as well.
PM: Me, and an actor friend who I was hanging out with at the time. One
film featured two friends, a couple, in an apartment building and they
are in this room carrying on with their daily life but theyre nude.
The camera is always floating past them; the camera is always moving and
panning across them. Then I made one where this woman puts on makeup,
and I made another where this guy is a chicken.
JB/GR: (Laughter) We like the sound of that.
PM: Theyre kind of stupid but a lot of the films are lost. Its
just lately that Ive started thinking that at the time I was making
this work with the camera moving I didnt think I was doing anything
but making a film but there was something weird about how I kept moving
the camera. I dont think it was by accident. It had to do with architecture
and the camera kept switching to a window or a door.
GR: It sounds similar to "Bossy Burger", where the action is
viewed from several positions and you often only get a glimpse of whats
PM: Yeah, and I dont know if Im reading something into it
but Im thinking about how I might film something now. At one point
Id seen a Dennis Oppenheim piece in the early 1970s, which I really
liked, where a conveyor belt is put right through a wall. The idea was
you put a penny on one side and the conveyor took it through and dropped
it on the other side. For me, it was this thing about passing through
the wall, going through the wall, and I liked the way this conveyor belt
interacted with the architecture. You never fucking see that piece anywhere.
I made this piece where two cameras began by looking at two windows next
to each other and then the cameras begin to move like this (circular motions).
They follow lines on the floor, and the lines are marked at points where
single frames are to be shot. Then the two films would be shown at the
same time on two screens next to one another like two eyeballs. It begins
like the head moving but the eyes go in different directions, click, and
they go straight through walls, click, next shots on the other side.
Its as if the architecture has no substance, its just perceptual.
These ideas of moving cameras, and cameras being eyes, was something I
was really interested in, and so the camera is also the performer. That
body of work has never really been seen much, even in this show, whose
total logic is that its someone elses curating but its
also about the limits of the gallery space.
GR: How much input did you have in the selection of works for this particular
show, or when it was in LA and New York?
PM: It was Lisa Philips and Dan Cameron at the New Museum, New York who
did the initial curating. It was a kind of collaboration in that they
had a list which had to do with their perception of my work, and it sort
of passed through me, and then I was asked what I felt about it. There
are pieces that I would have liked to have been included but part of that
is the physical constraints involved, and the expense of moving them around.
GR: Was this some of your newest works, like the big "Mechanised
PM: Yeah, those kinds of pieces.
JB: Or the remade Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson sculptures?
PM: The Michael Jacksons could have been shown, theyre not
that big. The show here stops with the "Santa Chocolate Shop",
and that was not originally curated into the show. It was supposed to
be "Heidi" but I added "Santa Chocolate Shop" in LA
because we had an extra room. There were some other pieces which were
in the New York shows but which arent here "The Garden",
"Saloon" and "The Box", for instance. These are mostly
pieces I added around the New Museum show, and which were shown in other
New York galleries.
JB: Have you any ambitions to maybe work in different spaces, such as
commercial television or film?
PM: The thing about film is money.
JB: And the people who run the business.
PM: Yeah, the film world is run by people who make decisions based on
money, and who want to see a script. I dont work with a script and
so the idea of making a million-dollar film is pretty impossible for me.
JB: What about a lower budget?
PM: Well thats really feasible. Ive already shot in 35mm,
16mm, Betacam, and its part of what Im doing now in a film
project with my son. And you know there have been a couple of times when
I almost made rock videos.
JB: That would have been good.
PM: I was interested in it. I would get these letters, so and so wants
you to do something. Then, Id tell them what I wanted to do and
Id never hear from them again.
PM: And the letters would say, "We want you to do something wild!",
and so Id tell them my ideas and just never hear from them again.
GR: Which bands got in touch with you?
PM: Lets see. I dont recall the name but someone told me theyre
really big? (Laughs)
GR: Rage Against The Machine?
PM: I would have done that in a second. I really like em. Now I
remember the others, it was Suicidal Tendencies, and also The Butthole
Surfers. I was gonna do it and I was really into it but they backed down,
or somebody backed down (Laughs). You never whos backing down, right?
There are so many managers, agents and these people in between who are
trying to sell an idea so you dont know whether its the band
youre dealing with or what. Its been going on about once a
year for the last five years and I always say, "Yeah, Ill do
it", and nothing ever happens!
GR: Well listen, weve got a band
PM: (Laughs) You want something wild?
JB: So, whats the project youre working on with your son?
PM: There are a couple of film projects, and weve worked on things
GR: Do you have a few ongoing collaborations, such as those with Mike
PM: Ive collaborated with a number of people over the years, and
with Mike it is definitely ongoing. In a peculiar way were working
on a piece right now, weve talked about certain ideas and next year
well start work on this thing weve been thinking about for
GR: Its a good way to work, and its good fun.
PM: Yeah, and its never really like we say, "Its time
to collaborate". I mean, with "Heidi" or "Fresh Acconci",
for instance, we were just talking on the phone and the idea just happened
in a conversation. This new one has been in the works for some time, just
developing in our heads.
GR: Are you getting hungry John?
JB: Yeah, Ive got to eat again.
GR: Hes a young father you see. He has to keep his strength up.
PM: Oh, you have a baby. How old?
JB: Seven months.
PM: Is he walking?
JB: Not yet but soon I hope.
PM: My son just had a kid. Hes six months, and hes crawling.
JB: Mine is more of a stranded seal.
PM: (Laughter) Crawlings pretty good.
GR: Id like to get back to crawling myself.
PM: Crawling is good.
JB: Did you find that it changed the nature of your work when you became
PM: I think it did. I made pieces about fatherhood, or something (laughs)
GR: I guess when youve gone through the birthing experience, and
then all the shitting and puking, you can look at your art and think thats
not so extreme after all. Maybe I can push this a little further. This
PM: (Laughs) In the 1980s my two were real young kids, and so you have
to take care of them and change the art production thing.
GR: Its a balancing act.
PM: Yeah, and it takes care of the money real good too! (Laughs)
JB: You know what Martin Kippenberger once said, "You really cant
bring about anything new with art. I knew that already as a child. One
can try to change the world for oneself, but exhibitions are, actually,
quite superfluous. If one didnt have to feed a family
PM: Yeah thats right, with Kippenberger it was all about raising
the family. "How come you painted all those pictures Martin?"
"Well, I have to support the family, you know." Pretty funny.
But there was also his whole extended family of friends and assistants.
JB: Welcome to Kippenberger World!
Tracey Ruddell (Tate Gallery Press Officer): Are you going to do a new
performance of "Bossy Burger" here?
PM: I did it already. But its not really a performance because nobodys
saw it and theres no camera. Its just a way of setting up.
Each time I do it - nine or ten times now - its different, sometimes
it takes four hours, sometimes an hour and a half. Depending on the mood.
GR: So you get locked into the gallery alone to perform.
PM: I usually do it at night when nobody is around. In the original there
were about five bottles of ketchup and some milk and stuff. Now there
are about twenty-five different ketchup bottles, all at a different stage
of decay, and there are nine bottles of turkey bones and eighty-nine cartons
of milk. You look at the floor and there are dark brown stains of ten-year-old
ketchup and new stains.
JB Its a history of ketchup.
GR: It will start to stink after a while.
PM: Oh yeah, and a lot depends on the kind of turkey bones I use. (Laughs)
This one here is going to really stink!
TR: Thanks for the warning. (Laughs)
GR: I was looking at the "Pinocchio Pipenose Householddilemma"
installation in the gallery, and I was wondering about the times you made
the audience wear Pinocchio costumes when viewing the work and why that
isnt happening for this show?
PM: When the videotape is being shown separate from the set, you have
to wear a costume to watch it. There are ten costumes in all. When it
was first shown in London viewers put on a costume in one room and then
entered the installation in another but the videotape has never been shown
on its own without the audience wearing costumes. Its a pretty
inconsistent strategy (Laughs) but I think its interesting to watch
the tape with the costume on. I like that.
JB: Its a good strategy to immerse the viewer in the artwork.
PM: Yeah, and its a weird thing to watch it through these holes.
But, you know; now I look at those Pinocchio costumes and they didnt
turn out the way I wanted them to. That just has a lot to do with just
technically not being able to figure out how to do it. Im always
amazed by people who can make such great looking pieces. I sometimes feel
a little fucking dumb.
JB: Its a problem for us as well. We have some grand ideas but we
cant quite figure out how to do them.
PM: I had this idea that there would be big plastic buttons, and the mask
would be different, but it all turned out to be kind of stupid. Thats
OK, because stupid can be good
GR: I was looking at the mask earlier and wondering whether it was a found
manufactured thing or not.
PM: No, I made it. Thats my work (Laughs).
GR: Its pretty good. You should be proud of it.
PM: Thats about as good as I could do! (Laughs).
GR: What about the "Tomato Head" and "Spaghetti Man"?
PM: I made those and they are about as good as I could do at the time.
JB: Theyre pretty slick.
PM: I really tried! (Laughs)
JB: The boy done well.
GR: The carrots are especially good.
PM: The carrots are pretty good, arent they? (Laughs)
TR: What prompted your decision to get into using materials like rubber
PM: Well, I wanted to make real solid rubber parts but I had a tough time
figuring it out but there was no excuse it was hardly a new technology
ten years ago! Somehow I just couldnt get it together. The "Spaghetti
Man" has a new noodle, or penis, which is silicon but I still have
the original urethane noodle, which travels with it. Silicon lasts longer
and is ten times more expensive. I like the rubber because it feels like
the body although some of the pieces, like "Alpine Man", are
pretty crude, very thin latex. That piece is the original Tree Fucker
and its over twelve years old now. It has to be constantly repaired
and the machinery breaks down but I kind of like it that way. Its
dumb technology, like me trying to make Disney in my garage.
JB: But youre getting more technically advanced recently.
PM: I made a rubber Michael Jackson that weighs six tons and you cant
move it. (Laughs)
JB: What did Jeff Koons make of your Michael Jackson piece?
PM: He liked it I think. It was a homage because I loved it, and at the
time that his piece first appeared I was really interested in Michael
Jackson. I remember being part of a panel discussion on Jeff Koons and
it was a pretty mean panel. I said that I thought the Michael Jackson
piece was a great work but the other panel members werent too happy
with that. And I said we should all be making it (Laughs). We should all
JB: We should remake "Popples".
GR: So how was your New York show received?
PM: Well, pretty good but I get this bad boy stuff all the time, you know,
every time someone writes, "Bad boy artist" or "Bad boy
LA artist." Then its "Old hippy bad boy LA artist!"
What the fuck! Some New York writers always want to point out that somehow
they are the Velvet Underground and LA is
GR: Jerry Garcia.
PM: Or, this is Donald Judd and thats Larry Bell. You like yoga
we like speed.
PM: Dont print any of this! (Laughs)