It is easy to dismiss Justin McCarthy’s numerous drawings of glamourous women as a product of the artist’s seemingly reclusive lifestyle, as a way to evoke the “world of Hollywood to fill a social void” (Fred B. Adelson, The New York Times, 1999). By the time his works went public, McCarthy was in his late 60s and lived alone in his childhood home—a dilapidated mansion in Weatherly, Pennsylvania, a remnant of his family’s wealth. McCarthy had begun seriously drawing four decades earlier, while he underwent treatment for a severe mental distress.
McCarthy’s artworks’ source material is driven from pop culture—movies, baseball, and an intense love of the Ice Capades. The society pages from his local newspapers served as his direct inspiration for several works in AFAM’s collection. Black and white newspaper photographs were translated into color, and the silhouettes of young debutants grew older, more confrontational, or stern.
McCarthy’s depictions are a visual record of an exuberant world full of lovers and friends. Recalling the artist’s strong sense of self-importance, someone in his circle recalled that “anything that he could paint, he declared himself to be its inventor.” His art helped create this outward confidence. McCarthy even transmitted himself within the multitude of mass images he gathered, adding his own facial traits to the subjects he portrayed.