Paul McCarthy is an artist of extraordinary gentleness whose work deals almost exclusively in human degradation, mutilation, scatology and perversion. His performance art in particular has found the now 55-year-old, Los Angeles-based artist delving into flagrant scenes of masturbation, sodomy, and bestiality -- often with copious amounts of imitation blood, semen, and shit.
Consider 1974's notorious performance "Sailor's Delight/Sailor's Meat," in which McCarthy donned a pair of woman's see-through panties, blue eye shadow and a blonde wig and proceeded to straddle a queen-sized bed smothered in raw hamburger meat and catsup. From there he went on to rub raw flesh across his chest and penis, mimic sexual intercourse with a jar of mayonnaise and a makeshift phallus, and urinate on a piece of sausage before shoving it down his throat. If that weren't enough, he ended the piece by smashing a bottle on the floor and walking barefoot on the shards of glass.
In person, McCarthy couldn't be more genial and easygoing. Getting comfortable on the front porch of his self-designed house in Pasadena, California -- a house that resembles a large, brown box surrounded by an army of new and used cars -- one can hardly imagine that this is the same man famous for such grotesqueries. His long gray beard, balding crown, and thick, horn-rimmed glasses make him appear more grandfatherly than revolutionary. He's also a bit shorter than you might expect, standing a mere 5'3" in a pair of navy cargo shorts, a black T-shirt and black socks. He speaks in a high-pitch tone that crackles and breaks on occasion. If he's pissed off, he certainly doesn't show it.