November/December 2010

Keegan McHargue


“I’m not trying to make some bold point in my work. I’m just trying to play with imagery.”
The meaning of leprechauns in Keegan McHargue’s work:
They are self-portraits
They came out of a difficult time for the artist
They represent the artist trying to destroy something inside himself
They are the artist’s most aggressive works
Especially the paintings of leprechauns jumping out of coffee mugs

In their own playful way, the paintings of Keegan McHargue tug at the very nature of perception. If M.C. Escher created his optical illusions through hyper-dimensionality, McHargue’s optical magic comes from a strikingly flat universe, a place where foreground and background are irrelevant, and the eye is drawn to nowhere and everywhere at once.

McHargue’s early figurative work suggests everything from Islamic mythology to comic books—art forms that overflow with symbolic narratives and cry out to be visually “read.” But where a papyrus or religious tableau can be deconstructed and understood, McHargue’s symbology of fat lips and piñata heads operates on the level of the subconscious, forever insinuating, never explaining.

McHargue’s recent drawings and sculptures regurgitate and revivify the vocabulary of design—corporate logos, punk-rock fonts, and tablecloths—with an obsessive child’s attention to detailed, artisanal patterns. Though the word decorative has become synonymous with unengaged art, McHargue engages with decorative thinking itself, placing the figure and ornament on equal levels of his visual hierarchy. In this way, his work is an expression of his worldview, in which impartiality and ambiguity are favored over opinions and clarity. Meaning is replaced by labyrinthine disorientation.

McHargue’s paintings show around the world, from Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco to Hiromi Yoshii Gallery in Tokyo to Deitch Projects in New York, and his work is currently held in the collections of the Greek art collector Dakis Joannou and the Museum of Modern Art. The following interview took place in McHargue’s studio, an old classroom in a defunct Catholic school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Also a musician, McHargue played an ambient remix he had recently completed as he spread his newest series of drawings across the floor and toured me through his first experiments in sculpture.

—Ross Simonini

I. The Surface

THE BELIEVER: Is that sculpture made out of chocolate?

KEEGAN McHARGUE: It is. I like the idea of sculpture as both art and product. Until recently, these two things had always seemed opposed to me. I want to create sculptures in “lines”—as in, fashion lines. This series of sculptures belongs to my first collection. They’re all the same size. They’re not intended to be overwhelming. They’re not sculptures that force the viewer into submission through physical dominance. I don’t want to force people into submission—I’m a pacifist. I want to make modesty.

BLVR: I want to take a bite out of it.

KM: That’s great. I want juicy work. The object should hold the power to possess its viewer. Two big interests of mine are consumption and desire. I’m really trying to discuss the idea of our collective desires. But I know for myself I am discussing the idea of sexuality more than I am discussing my own sexuality. I feel very removed personally from the sculptures, almost as if, through these artworks, I’m reporting anonymously about much larger conditions—the desire we have to take a big bite out of something. Though I guess you have to believe that people are just going to see you coming though the work, unless otherwise specified. It’s just a natural default.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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