McCarthy is known for shocking, sexually charged pieces that feature benign cartoon and pop-culture characters such as Olive Oyl and Santa Claus, among others in a bacchanalia of blood and feces.
His 1974 video Hot Dog shoots to the heart of the adolescent “gross-out” as McCarthy tapes his penis into a hot dog bun, then packs his pie hole full of franks and wraps himself in gauze.
Another piece from the 70s called Sailor’s Meat finds the artist dressed as a blonde hooker smeared with blood and “gnawing” a pile of raw meat.
With the technological advances of the past two decades, McCarthy has fashioned robots to do his dirty work for him: the kinetic sculpture The Garden, features a male robot getting it on with a tree. In Santa Chocolate Shop (1997), McCarthy achieves the ultimate dismantling of sentimental notions of childhood innocence. An installation, the work included a lopsided plywood house and a life-size video projection of Santa “making chocolate” into the mouth of a prone little helper while men in crotchless animal suits scurry around the workshop.
McCarthy has collaborated with fellow artist Mike Kelley in video pieces like 1987’s Family Tyranny. Critics often compare his work with that of the Viennese Actionists whose performances were also characterized by gore, raw sexuality, and abused food.