THEMATIC: Transformation and Distortion

"Happy Traveler (Kicker)," 2008. Clay, resin, wood, light, and steel, 69 x 44 x 35 inches. Photo by Ann-Marie Rounkle. © Paul McCarthy. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zürich London.

Artists often transform or distort popular cultural forms in art. Paul McCarthy incorporates popular objects and imagery into his artworks; he removes them from their original contexts by exaggerating, warping, or disfiguring them in different ways. In his segment, McCarthy describes his use of different popular objects, including Hummel figurines. View McCarthy's segment, and discuss how the artist distorts and transforms characters and objects, to investigate the relationship between art and popular culture.

Compare McCarthy's use of popular cultural forms to that of other artists, including: John Baldessari, Matthew Barney, Cao Fei, Jeff Koons, Michael Ray Charles, Arturo Herrera, Pierre Huyghe, Raymond Pettibon, and Jessica Stockholder.

SEGMENT: Paul McCarthy in "Transformation"

Before Viewing
Describe an instance when you were confronted with something familiar that was distorted, transformed, or even mutilated. Describe artworks, advertisements, or aspects of popular culture that play with or distort familiar genres or subject matter.

What are the differences between creating entertainment for popular culture and making art?

While Viewing
Take note of how McCarthy transforms the familiar into disturbing, grotesque, or carnival-like imagery. On what kinds of characters and subject matter does he focus? What kinds of materials, tools, and approaches does he use to achieve these transformations?

After Viewing
McCarthy says that his work seems to be about tearing down and opening up conventions. How does he do this? What are the conventions to which he refers?

McCarthy says that making videos is like making paintings, but he distinguishes between the different kinds of narrative they produce. Discuss this idea, and create a two-dimensional painting or collage on a chosen theme—using popular imagery and objects—and then translate the image into a video or sequence of images.