"I can’t not do my art. My art is a part of who I have become." — Mike McCarthy
Mike McCarthy is a stone sculptor working in limestone, soapstone, alabaster and marble who does both abstract and realistic work. He is a member of PYRO Gallery in Louisville where he will be exhibiting with Debra Lott in a show titled Human-Nature, running August 25 –October 8, 2016.
When did you first think you would be an artist?
I knew I wanted to DO art at around age 8 when I first started carving wood with my grandfather. When I was in high school I started taking art classes and figured out pretty quickly that I really wanted to be an artist, to the point of deciding that I would major in art in college. But it was in high school that I first started identifying myself as an artist. I think I always considered myself an artist but never really knew what that meant until a few years ago. I didn’t really take my art seriously or truly make a commitment until then. So, I guess the bottom line is I really KNEW I would be an artist well after I THOUGHT I would be an artist.
Who or what inspires you now?
My wife. She is my biggest fan and my biggest critic, both of which are necessary, but without her support, it would be very difficult to spend the time and effort art required for what I do. She also puts up with me doing my art when there are a lot of things that need to be done around the house, listens to me while I am constantly talking about art, going with me to all the art events I love to attend, and generally being ok with my obsession with art.
More specifically, viewing any type of art inspires me. I love to think of the thought process it takes to create a work of art. I am in awe of other artists and seeing their work. While some specific pieces of art do not inspire, the creative process always fascinates me. I think: “How in the world did that person get that idea.” Viewing other work, no matter what it is, always makes me have to go home and carve.
As for local artists, Don Lawler, Meg White, Bob Lockhart, Matt Weir, Don Cartwright and Albert Nelson inspire me the most. I strive to make work that is on the same level as theirs. Beyond their work, I am very appreciative of their generosity of time, encouragement, and advice. It is not always what they create, but the fact that they created it that inspires me.
Historically, my two inspirations are Michelangelo and Bernini. My wife and I visited Italy and went to see Michelangelo’s “David”. While it was absolutely stunning, the unfinished work leading up to the David was actually more inspiring to me. I would have loved to carve over the same lines and see what the stone and the tools told me. Just remembering it now makes me want to not finish the rest of these questions and go carve.
If you could do anything else but make art, what would it be?
I can’t not do my art. My art is a part of who I have become. I am a happier and better person because of my art. After I graduated college, I lacked the confidence to really pursue it. I didn’t have a place where I could carve and I am color-blind so I never really felt confident in my ability to paint or draw. I went to work at a graphic design firm for a year, left that job and went to work for the YMCA, left the YMCA and started my own business, all of which felt so consuming that I thought I didn’t have time for my art. I didn’t really seriously start back until about 6 years ago. I often think now that I am close to 50 years old, how long will I be able to carve? It is really the only fear I have. I think: how can I carve till the day I die. What adaptations will I have to make to be able to carve when I am older. I haven’t answered the questions yet, but for me to be happy, I have to carve so I will have to find a way. I have been through a long period of time where I wasn’t doing my art and I never want to go back there again.
What advice would you give a young artist just out of college?
What ever it takes, keep doing your work!! The only regret I have in my life is that I didn’t continue to work on my art after school. I think, the improvements I have made in the past 6 years, I could have made 20 years ago. You can’t get that time back. Your life will be so much more satisfying if you just stick with your art.
Tell us about an important moment of transition for you as an artist?
Two events happened in 2012 that totally changed my art career. First, through the prodding of Bob Lockhart, I applied for and was accepted into the Yew Dell Garden Sculpture Show. My piece “Sylvanus” was selected as the program cover piece and sold the opening night. It was the first time I had ever worked on a monumental scale. That piece drove me to work even bigger. At the same time, Bob had been pushing me for some time to apply to PYRO Gallery. Bob invited me to show with him and I sold all but 2 pieces, the majority of them on the opening night. While I still struggle with self-confidence, these two events went a long way to helping me put my work out in public.
If you were given a $100,000 what would do with it?
Well, anyone who really knows me would laugh at this, but I would have to use at least a little to buy more stone. I am not a hoarder at all, but when it comes to stone, I can’t get enough. With the majority of the money though, I would buy a piece of land and create a sculpture park! At the park we could do carving symposiums. I attended the Indiana Limestone Symposium this past summer and it was AWESOME! There are not many symposiums around. We could also open the property up to beginning artists who didn’t have a place to carve.
What does art mean to you?
I carve every night. I get lost in it. I actually have to set an alarm on my watch to tell me it is time to stop carving and clean up and go to bed. If not, before I know it, the sun would be up and another day would be starting. If I am not making my art, I am thinking about it or looking at other’s work. People ask for the meaning behind a piece and I am always at a loss. The image or the “thing” I have created does not hold the meaning of the piece. The creation of the piece is the meaning of the piece. The creation of the piece is what I have to do, so the piece becomes me. Imagine putting yourself on a pedestal and inviting a bunch of people in to a big room and saying tell me what you think of me. That is why I collect art. Yes, my wife and I buy pieces that we like visually, but I am more likely to buy a piece from and artist at an opening where I can meet them and try to understand them. After all, I am buying part of them.
How do you feel about local art scene in Louisville? Would you change anything about it?
Most artists I meet are great about sharing or helping or just taking time to talk with you about their art. I love the variety of work that is available. We have a great visual art community, but we are also rich in other arts as well. We have some amazing public parks that are art in and of them selves. The arts are some of the first to venture out to revitalize neglected areas. I would like to see more outdoor sculpture parks!! On a trip to Washington DC, I spent time at the Smithsonian Modern Art Sculpture Park, the National Mall, and the Hirschhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden. It was amazing. How great would it be if some of our parks took some of their vast land and created small sculpture parks!
How long do you usually spend on a specific piece of art?
This really varies depending on the scale and type of stone I am using. Some of my small soapstone or alabaster pieces I can do in a day or two. Most of the time I have a few weeks in the medium sized pieces or marble pieces. Then for the monumental scale work I have done, I have not finished any of those pieces in less than 9 months.
What's the most challenging part when starting on a piece of work of art?
Actually, starting a piece is never a challenge for me other than picking the idea I want to work on. I have more ideas in my head than I will ever be able to complete in my lifetime. For me, the more difficult thing is finishing. When I used to carve wood, if I didn’t it, it went in the fireplace. That way, I didn’t have to deal with the problem I was having with a piece. With stone, you can’t put in the fireplace, and for the large-scale pieces you need a crane to get rid of it, so it has forced me to work through problems. I think it is making me a better artist, although, some pieces still sit there staring at me because I can’t solve the problem with them. There are many times when I wish stone burned!!
Name: Mike McCarthy
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Education: BA in Fine Arts, Bellarmine University
Gallery Representative: PYRO Gallery and Revelry Boutique Gallery (Louisville), KY Artisan Center (Berea)
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