Le nouvel esprit du vandalisme n°1/Pat McCarthy

A kid from « Walden », conversation with Pat McCarthy by Laura Morsch-Kihn


Pat McCarthy is a multifaceted artist. Pigeon flyer, road-kid, poet, seller of sandwiches on the run. His time is not spent in the studio but ‘in the field’, exploring transience as a medium to draw complex conceptual narratives, both social and personal. He was born in 1987 in Danbury, USA, outside of New York City. At age 19 he began simultaneous apprenticeships under New-York sculptors Tom Sachs and JJ PEET. After 3 years of tutelage, he left New-York to live as a ‘road-kid’, perpetually traveling on foot extensively within the USA and numerous countries in Europe and Asia. In 2009, he began the fanzine Born to Kill. This printed medium intimately relays performance, adventure, sculpture, and the artist’s often poetic and biographical prose. (biography by Delire Gallery)


Laura : Pat, first of all I’d like to thank you because your fanzine « Born to Kill » motivated me to start my own fanzine. Fanzines are the best way to create a publication when you want to be independent in creation, ideas and financially. It’s also a good way to meet and bring people together, to be an actor in an alternative culture free of rules. Now because of you I have the impression to have re-activated something from my adolescence when I was buying fanzines at punk concerts. What’s interesting about your fanzine is that you transform it into an artistic project. Was that your original idea? How did it come about ?

Pat : Born to Kill was always an artistic project, in each issue no matter what its about I strive for the most unique and imaginative content I can authentically produce. It’s the sole expression of one person, and the content is always highly personal. I never did reviews or journalistic writings; my writing voice is always prosy and weird. Visually or graphically, though, Born to kill’s layout and aesthetics, the black and white and hard contrast, are certainly done in punk fanzine tradition. Every little bit of the paper is put to use, no blank space, as much information as possible. When I started I was traveling by road really hard, fulltime, with no car and no job and no traveling partner. Going to so many towns and cities and meeting so many people, I needed to write zines to communicate, to extend conversations. The zine community is predominantly adventurous people – hobo-kids and graffiti writers, skateboarders and street photographers – and I wanted to have something with resonance to trade with them.

Laura : Your fanzine Born to Kill (Cheese Bike series and Pigeoning series) is special too, a kind of experimental object, a mix between intimate diary, photo diary, naturalist diary and journal accounting. Like Walden or life in the wood by Henry David Thoreau you describe your everyday life and the way of your change by contact with nature (pigeons) and humans. But the big difference is that you’re not in a forest but in New York. Did you see New York or aim to go further with your fanzine like your own Walden where art, life, nature, and all these possible encounters coincide?

Pat : Thoreau is a hero. And yes New York is a forest. But everywhere is a forest. I look for harmony between my actions and the people and nature around me everywhere. New York is immensely dense with activity and information and options, this city is the synthesis of a modern city, a modern life. I love the complexity and the challenge here; moving so fast and thinking so quick. It fosters conviction and courage and a sharp eye for details. In making – or living – the essence, the pure spirit, is always in the process. I attempt in my fanzines to showcase and explore my processes, not just in the sphere of object making or performing, but an attempt to reveal, articulate, and share a broader and superceeding poetic spirit.

Laura : You also make porn fanzines Skirts and American cream which are mixing stories and photographs. Can you tell more about the character Dorian who are going from a fanzine to an other and his author Pats ?

Pat : In an issue of skirts, you’ll find many x-rated vignettes in between photo spreads of ladies. American Cream is a sex magazine that I myself am the model of. In American Cream issue 1, there is a single story accompanying the photos – a 25 page lampoon of Wilde’s Dorian Gray, titled Dorian Dick. In my dub-version, Dorian is a beautiful young and aristocratic sex addict whom is haunted not by a decaying painting, but a decaying dick. Only he sees the decay, his endless lovers see the most beautiful dick in all the world. Its funny and very surreal and I write these stories as an exercise in the imagination, and as a reflective reaction to the decadence of our times.



Laura : In 2010, in Leipzig you invented a mobile sculpture called « Cheese Bike » that consists of a moped equipped with a little barbecue grill so as to transform yourself into a street cook making Wonderbread grilled cheese sandwiches that you sell for $1 in NYC or 1 euro across the city of New York but also in Marseille, Brussels, …. How did you get the idea of this invention?

Pat : Leipzig is a haven for free thinkers and artists. The city is incredibly cheap and the residents don’t really care about money, financial ambition at least is not so common. People take the time there to focus on bettering their lives and environments and the punk communities are really flourishing, everyone encourages each other, and people have the time and conviction to make amazing art. My first months spent there, I made my money collecting and exchanging empty bottles and lived like a king. I stayed in a westchur haus with a big bike scrap yard in the back garden, which existed as a massive free pile of construction materials for anyone to use. Making a simple vending cart was obvious to me. I wanted my own job, and I literally could build one from scrap. And grilled cheese to me, as an American, is the most simplistic, delicious, and iconic sandwich of all, so I commited to it. And because the ingredients are so cheap, I could sell them for one euro or less, a democratic trade. Capitalism at its most functional and idealist state. German kids loved the kase zandwichs. They thought it was so decadent and American to have 2 slices of bread instead of one! But everyone loves a midnight street cook, everywhere in the world.

Laura : In spring 2014 you made your latest fanzine of the « Cheese Bike » series when you escorted it by cargo from Philadelphia to its new owner in Brussels. You wrote that the « Cheese Bike » was an apprenticeship as a young artist. What did you particularly learn from this experience?

Pat : With the Cheesebike I learned I had the power to create, out of thin air, a job for myself. Which is ultimately what all artists do, they see what doesn’t exist, and they bring it to the world. They invent their own livelihood. In going out on the bike everynight to create something and sell it, in public to an audience, I developed courage. As a tagger, I was always in the dark; my identity and techniques were hidden. Selling sandwiches and riding all over New York on that crazy looking moped put me on stage. Who I was and the processes of my ‘practice’ were totally exposed. And so I became comfortable directly discussing, defending, and bartering for my creations.. This was how I learned to make aesthetic gestures to a sculpture – through real-life travel and function, and fixing what breaks in the heat of a moment. But again, with the Cheesebike it wasn’t simply about authenticating a sculpture by putting it to hard, ritualistic use, but also authenticating my vision of the artist as a creator of environments in which new ideas can flourish amongst a varied and democratic audience.


Laura : You told me that you started pigeoning when you arrived in Bushwick (the Mecca of pigeoning), because there was a shop specializing in pigeoning on the corner. Then you began raising pigeons on your roof and invented the « Babylon Gardens » a homemade structure for pigeons inside of which you made a special ceramic system to feed them. What attracted you at first when you discovered this practice?

Pat : I stopped traveling and rented a flat in Brooklyn. I got really into the neighborhood, the immediate street in front of my house. New york is so dense and ripe with culture and craziness; I put all my attention to discovering the details. A few weeks after I moved in I traveled to Los Angeles to participate in Werner Herzog’s rogue school, a clandestine seminar he holds every year by invitation only to discuss flim making and art or poetry in general. For one week it was an open forum, a great conversation between Herzog and about 40 underground artists, all filmmakers except myself, and he spoke at length about the flights of birds, their grace and power as symbols to man. When I returned to Brooklyn, I suddenly realized there was a pigeon shop on the corner of my street, in fact the only shop for pigeon keepers in Brooklyn. I went right in and jumped into the game, bought my first bird that day and was hooked. Put a coop on the roof, then 1 bird became 2 then 10 then 50 and now 100. The roof became my vision of the entire world.

Laura : The pigeon, your art subject, combines many disciplines: breeding, fanzine, writing, photography, ceramics, architecture, choreography, and interactive performance. Because of that would you say it’s kind of a total project?

Pat : All my endeavors are natural extensions of my routines in life. In that way I believe my ‘artworks’ are always ‘total projects’. I strive for an attention to detail and nuance that can only be found when completely submersed. In New York particularly, but everywhere really, I’ve met so many young people who in the same conversation call themselves artists and then complain about how they have not made any work for a long time because they don’t have the supplies, they don’t have the space, they don’t have the time… The excuses are endless and transparent. They’re seduced by the distractions of a city lifestyle. Too much intoxicated socializing or maintaining dayjobs that don’t contribute in any knowledgable way to their artistic interests. This is crazy. A true artist realizes the work, at any cost or sacrifice. This is why I find it best to get myself caught in these projects that need daily attention. Bird keeping is the easiest example – if I didn’t meet with the birds twice a day for food and water, they’d leave, or die. This is the best way to perpetuate one’s work, cultivate an inflexible commitment.

Laura : From antiquity to the 1950s the pigeon was a symbol of love and freedom. Now the pigeon is considered as a harmful animal, somehow akin to the tagger vandalism in the city.We can see across your work that you have great respect for this animal, maybe because of his freedom, his wildness, his capacity for adaptation with the city and his desire to voyage. Could these be metaphors of your way of practicing and your vision of art?

Pat : Of the list I’m most interested in pigeons integration with humans. They are the first animal domesticated by man, and their species has been guided and cultivated nearly exclusively by man, to the widest of capacities ; as symbol of love and beauty, for man’s most sacred religious events, to carrying printed matter, particularly during times of war and resistance.


Laura : When I was looking for the definition of pigeoning I found, in a urban dictionnary, that word mean also the art to have a conversation with someone when you don’t know about them. It’s funny because this idea it’s one of the component of your work as the the idea of art as a meeting, which was used by the Surrealists with the fortuitous meeting for example. In this way your work does not so much seem to be the product of the art but a set of situations which reveal the art?

Pat : I know, the dual meaning of the word is pretty amazing. I grew up around storytellers, and have always been drawn to storytellers, naturally I strive to be one, and put a lot of effort into articulating my actions so they can be successfully relayed. My work all has narrative both linear and nonlinear, and both literal (in the fanzines) and hidden (for example a stack of bowls that pigeons have roosted in). Always, always, what matters most is not the object of fascination, by the concepts behind why we are fascinated by it.

Laura : As an artist who makes most of his art in, with, by, from the street I would like to know if your fanzine «  Born to kill », your mobile sculpture « Cheese bike » and your tribute to pigeons « Babylon Gardens » are the continuity of your experience as a tagger?

Pat : Yes, i think many ethos carry over. My current endevors are informed by past years as a very active graffiti writer, which was a continuation of many years skateboarding, which was a continuation of a childhood spent roaming streets and forests. Ive always been most interested in exploring landscapes and diving as deeply as possible into present environments. And admire in graffiti writers, particularly, their commitment to expressing themselves not shut in a studio, but out in the ‘field’.

Laura : When we look at your works,  » Cheese Bike, » « Babylone Gardens » and  » Born to Kill, » there is no border between art and life. This approach is very close to the ideas of Raoul Vaneigem and Guy Debord and also recently from the American philosopher Bob Black who dealt with the question of work in relationship to art. They consider work in the capitalist society as being a « separate, » alienated act, a commodification of the worker. According to these two revolutionaries emancipation happens only by means of free creation of situations by individuals, and that’s what they call real « art ». Do you recognize yourself in these libertarians’ ideas of art?

Pat : I certainly admire most those who are truly obsessed and consumed by their passions and art practices, artists whom cannot simply work in the studio 9 to 5 like a regular socitorial occupation. The sculpturs tom sachs and JJ PEET come to mind as two perfect examples of artists with ‘total’ visions, whom never take off their work clothes, nor does any thing touch their minds thats not perfectly linked in harmony with their art making. When you watch them walk down the street you see there is an amazing focus, a readyiness to act at any moment. We call them gesamtkunstwerkers.

Laura : The other notion which seems important in your artistic practice is the concept of time.You seem through your artistic practice to have a need to widen time, to take your time. Is it a way for you to become aware finally of the necessity of sweeping down any action and any ethics on the rhythm of elements? In this way can we tell that you have somewhere an ecologist vision of art?

Pat : Life is short. Gotta commit to participating, sincerely, in the great conversation.

New-York – Marseille août 2014

Retrouver les oeuvres de Pat McCarhty sur le stand de la  galerie Delire ,  Salon d’art contemporain ART-O-RAMA, Marseille, du 29 au 31 août 2014.