jamie mccartney Santa Muerte
Marijn Kruijff
13 min

In Conversation With "The Great Wall of Vulva" Creator Jamie McCartney (P2)

13 min

In this second part of our talk with the Jamie McCartney (first part here), the artist tells about his work in the film industry, artistic influences, his creative process, the promotion of his more daring artworks, and his end goal and current projects.

6) Can you tell us more about your work as a sculptor and prop maker in the film industry?

When I graduated art school in America and returned to the UK in the early 1990s, it was not the rich, fertile ground for ideas that I hoped for. The bubble of art school had left me unprepared for the reality of the life of the early-career artist. England, stuck in deep recession, was not in great need of a young man whose only credit was a degree in Experimental Art. Needless to say my art education was not the immediate road to riches I had hoped for!

jamie mccartney Old GloryFig.12. Old Glory

So I ended up working as a creative and maker in the film industry, more by accident than by design. I worked on many revered films that I am proud of; Casino Royale and V for Vendetta being two of them. What I gained from the industry was a wide and in-depth knowledge of a multitude of materials and process that I'd never experienced in my theory, more than practice, based degree. I also learned business skills and how to manage budgets and deadlines and where to find suppliers who had the skills that I lacked. I left the film industry much older, wiser and better equipped to pursue a fine art career..

jamie mccartney Old Glory close-upFig.12a.

One such skill was learning to take moulds from the body, which is used in the film business for everything from body doubles to corpses and wounds to making armour, body suits, helmets etc. I left the movies to start a business offering this service to the public to make portrait and figurative sculptures of themselves and their loved ones. I was a pioneer in this area and the business was a great success. I built up a huge portfolio of work and still have no real competition. People visit me or fly me around the world to make sculptures of them. This business success allowed me to fund my personal projects such as The Great Wall of Vulva. I would never have found public funding for something seemingly so outrageous.

jamie mccartney Bra Spangled BannerFig.13. Bra Spangled Banner 

jamie mccartney Bra Spangled Banner close-upFig.13a.

7) Which artist(s) has influenced you the most?

Haha! I love that question as it presupposes we have any real understanding or knowledge of our influences or of who the authors of that knowledge root actually were. Ideas and influences circulate constantly and everyone is influencing everyone. The only certainty is that we can no more influence our predecessors than we can avoid their influence on us. People tell me I have influenced their work or that they are writing about me. I have gone from studying art history to being art history and soon will be an artistic dinosaur and then a fossil and finally nothing tangible.

But the ideas that I have parsed, stolen or unwittingly emulated will remain in influence for evermore, albeit in ever-diluting strength. That's one of the joys of the creative life. We shape a future we'll never actually see. As a childless person, only my ideas will remain as my legacy.

However, if you want me to name names I will. I absolutely believe we should all name our direct influencers. Credit where credit is due. Anything else suggests we create in a bubble, protected from the winds of other people's ideas. Which is utter crap. If people don't openly cite their influences then don't trust them!

jamie mccartney  Doggy final editFig..14. Doggy (2018)

So here goes: Picasso and Dali for showing me that you can work across multiple disciplines. In fact that you must if you want to be a great artist. There is nothing worse to see in a gallery show than stale, repetitive work. Those two great Spaniards never got stuck and were not afraid of exposing themselves, including their sexuality. Misogyny notwithstanding, history can be their judge not me. 

Also Duane Hansen for his ground-breaking body casting work from the 1970s, Jasper Johns for the cast of his own penis in one of his works and the groupie Cynthia Plastercaster for her casts of rock stars penises. I had a great chat with her on the phone a few years ago. I was very sad to hear of her passing. She was a legend. Also the performances of Annie Sprinkle and Eve Ensler (now known as V to avoid the patriarchy in her former name). Those three women directly influenced The Great Wall of Vulva

The list would not be complete without naming Krsysztof Wodiczko, an unsung hero of political art. His projection of a Nazi Swastika onto South Africa House in London during that county's repression of black people in the 1980s is a prime example of powerful art activism and is a seminal political artwork. If I would ever meet him I would be in the presence of greatness.

So you can see I am standing on the shoulders of giants. Just like everybody else is.

jamie mccartney Santa MuerteFig.15.  Santa Muerte (July 2018)

jamie mccartney Santa Muerte close-upFig.15a.

8) Which part of the creative process excites you the most?

The great inventor Thomas Edison said that success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. I agree - making sculptures is mostly hard work. Even my photography is hard work as it is a slow, additive process that is done without a camera. I don't make my life easy.

For me there's the fleeting Eureka moment where I know I have a great idea. Then there's the hard slog of making that become something tangible, in order to translate that idea to somebody else. That period has the potential to be dull, because you are itching for the end result. But if you slow it down and enjoy the process then you find that the idea tree that grows from a non-linear approach is where the real excitement is. Ideas generate ideas so a blinkered drive for completion misses the good stuff. That's why some of my projects take years to realise. They are non-linear. It's great to look back at a work and know that I explored everything I could rather than being results driven. It's commercially moribund but spiritually rich. Do you want to see art that was made for a quick buck or for the soul? 

One of the areas that I keep coming back to in my non-linear creative meandering is the fascination I have for the power we humans invest in certain objects. Using these objects, or casts, or other representations of them, imbues my work with that authority. By their combination or presentation these objects can stir significant meaning or feelings in the viewer. As an example, national flags have their own authority and I use them in my work to political or comical effect.

Genitals also command their own authority and the casts I create of them have the power to transform, educate and shock. As an artist, if you want to move people then those attributes have great currency. When you look at genitals through the lens that I provide, their presentation or juxtaposition offers something you can't ignore and it will leave you changed by the experience. But only if you are willing to look. So I try to create work that draws you in and provides that nugget of change before you have the time to resist.

jamie mccartney ResurrectionFig.16. Resurrection (July 2018)

jamie mccartney Fallen AngelFig.17.  Fallen Angel (July 2018)

9) If I'm correct you're doing your own promotion? What are your experiences promoting your more daring work?

I am doing my own promotion in the sense that I don't currently have gallery representation. I did in the past but those galleries have all closed. I must be the kiss of death. But there are benefits in that I can work without the commercial pressure that I have seen brought to bear on gallery artists I know. The promotional aspect of the artist/gallery relationship is very valuable and I would suggest the gallery route to any artist over self-promotion. Being the generator of ideas as well as sales means you lose idea time. Ideas are what give artists their value so don't limit your idea time! 

I have had to do both due to circumstance, but also the meandering and experimental nature of my work has put off some commercial galleries. Not having children has allowed me to work continually and at all hours. I have the time to make the work and promote it. But honestly the work also promotes itself, as do the museums that show it, the people that buy it and my huge and enthusiastic fan base. Social media has been a game-changer for artists. Galleries are not the only conduits to the marketplace and a strong social media presence for many years has been great for my career.

That said, I am constantly in danger of the censure that comes with that approach. My work is deleted and banned by social media from time to time. And it's not just social media. There are cultural toes that I step on and there is push back. It is an occupational hazard and it can be a problem financially. But I never was in it for the money. That would be incompatible with genuine artistry.

For example, you may find it interesting that my work is essentially banned in Japan. The Great Wall of Vagina (as it was originally titled but that's another story) was branded 'obscene' by the Tokyo police in 2013. The exhibition of it in Tokyo, and by extension the whole country, was forbidden and the organisers were threatened with arrest. I suggested to them we still show the work but with textured, acrylic screens in front of each panel that would pixelate it, thus commenting on the censorship. You could see it but not see it. What a powerful statement that would be. But the organisers were still concerned with arrest and the show was cancelled.

To my very great sadness my work has never been exhibited in Japan, a country I so dearly want to visit. With my love of shunga and other Japanese artistic traditions, including carving, ceramic, textiles, armoury, photography, food, gardens, architecture etc you can imagine how much I would like to go there. So there is sometimes a heavy price to pay for being an 'outsider artist'.

jamie mccartney GoddessFig.18. Goddess

jamie mccartney StepFig.19. Step

jamie mccartney Step close-upFig.19a. 

jamie mccartney The Sum of Our PartsFig. 20. The Sum of Our Parts

jamie mccartney Skin DeepFig.21.  Skin Deep

10) Is there a certain vision with an end goal that you want to achieve as an artist or do you take it more as it comes?

That's such an interesting question. I think if I had an end goal I would miss out on the journey. It would suggest a great ego and that I was assured I had all the answers and something to teach. I prefer to think I present questions, not answers, to my viewers and that my non-linear exploration is a search for knowledge not answers. Scientists seek answers to the questions they write themselves. I seek questions to the answers I have been provided.

We all spend far too much time fooling ourselves. We seek protection, answers and explanations for life's constant pressure and vicissitudes, like somehow if we do enough thinking we'll be safe. But nobody cheats the reaper so give up on that silliness. Philosophies that teach you to seize the day, be in the now, be present, non-attachment etc are at odds with a world where achievement is championed over living.

I have never had ambition beyond finding as much time I can in this short life to make the things that matter to me. Being in the creative zone is the deepest form of meditation. The 'flow', as they call it, is the most powerful drug. I think all drugs are trying to recreate this experience but there is no fast track to that sensation. When has instant ever tasted like a slowly-crafted cup of real coffee? It is in the making that I find peace from the world. I have basically spent my life in a very long art-therapy session.

I think these ideas are more prevalent in Eastern philosophies so perhaps my answer shows another aspect of why I am drawn to Japanese artistic traditions. I am happy to take it as it comes. But that doesn't mean doing nothing and expecting results. Just don't be attached to outcome.

The resurrection demonstrated in the art of Kintsugi shows me that there is always hope when things don't go to plan. Humans are such inventive creatures. Show me the map not the route...

jamie mccartney sculpture Skin DeepFig.22.  Sculpture Skin Deep 

jamie mccartney The Impossibility of PassionFig.23. Sculpture The Impossibility of Passion

jamie mccartney Cool BratanniaFig.24. Cool Bratannia

jamie mccartney Cool Bratannia close-upFig.24a.

11) What current project(s) are you working on?

To answer this could take all day. Like I said some projects have very long outcomes. A lot of projects are just in the idea phase because I lack the skill or the contacts or the time or money to realise them. Or the technology hasn't been invented yet! But in no particular order I'm working on concepts involving live volcanoes, meteorites, animal hides, augmented reality, moon dust, photosynthesis and motion-capture. I'm designing memorials to victims of street violence, police violence, domestic and societal violence including a well-researched Holocaust memorial that I hope will be a transformative experience, whatever your politics and beliefs. Like I said, I work with the dark side of the human condition as well as the light.

You'll see that above list has no mention whatever of genitals. I am not a one-trick pony. But beyond the concepts above, the work currently in production is genital rich: a follow up, 10th anniversary piece, similar to The Great Wall of Vulva, called Viva la Vulva, is in production. It was delayed by covid but will be finished in 2024. I am currently in search of the best place to debut it. Suggestions are welcome. I'm also going to finish and move on from the series of internal vagina casts in glass that I pioneered, called ‘Internal Affairs’. I have some politicians’ portraits I am making from casts of the tip of my penis and a project involving hundreds of testicle casts that I am currently seeking more volunteers for.

Then I'm going to move away from working with genitals. To keep doing them would be an artistic dead-end. I may return to them if I feel I have a further contribution to make but for now I'd say buy them up fast as there may never be any more made. That's art investment gold!

jamie mccartney 40 bronze vulva wallFig.25.  40 Women Bronze 

jamie mccartney bronze vaginaFig.25a  Detail

More of Jamie McCartney's work can be found on Instagram!

Click HERE for our earlier interview with the British graphic artist John Coulthart

Source: the images were provided by Jamie McCartney, jamiemccartney.com

A nice catalog on McCartney's art with detailed descriptions on individual works can be found here .