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Jim Carrey's cartoons reflect the political circus that inspires them
At 56, Jim Carrey still carries a strong childhood memory of taking a train to Sudbury, a city in northern Ontario, Canada, to attend the funeral of an uncle who had died in a car crash.
"It was the greatest time of my life," he said in a phone interview, "because I drew cartoons on the train the entire trip. And I ran up and down the length of the train showing people my cartoons. I remember that as a really strong memory between me and my mother."
In this way, Carrey's recently opened exhibition of his political cartoons at Maccarone Gallery in Los Angeles "is really a revisitation, a re-gifting of my childhood. It's become a political thing at the moment because I think that's necessary. But it's a thing that's been in my life, my whole life."
The show, titled "IndigNation," features 108 drawings from Carrey's Twitter feed, where the works where originally shared, from roughly 2016 to the present. The wall labels echo the tweets that accompanied the drawings.
As a highly subjective document of a fraught political moment, it's a fascinating timeline, mainly depicting the president as a clown, a cyclops, a pig, a witch and a kinky ice cream-eater among other unflattering personages, alongside more flash-in-the-pan political figures.
One drawing from early this year disfigures Trey Gowdy, a Republican congressman from South Carolina, as a slack-jawed rat set against a background of red and blue scribbles, alongside the caption-tweet: "Another RAT leaps from the sinking ship! Swim Willard! Swim! #TreyGowdy." (One has to dig deep into the news cycle memory to recall that Gowdy was one of the first Republicans to publicly defend the FBI's investigation into Russian intervention in the 2016 election.)
Other sundry figures that briefly burst into headlines over the past two years are similarly subject to the invective of Carrey's colorful cartoons. Former political consultant Rick Gates, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, national security adviser John Bolton are all presented with much censure but little context. The show feels less like a critique than a reaction to -- and some ways an enactment of -- the disorienting political circus that sparked it.
"I have many friends who are connected in the media world and I get a lot of information from a lot of sources," Carrey said when asked where he gets his news from, "but I also watch the other side, to great chagrin, from time to time. It is about weird sides and misinformation and this strange pseudo structure we're living in, where half the people believe a completely different story."
The world of Jim Carrey's political cartoons, where an Ace Ventura avatar gleefully rides atop an elephant with Trump's sons impaled on its tusks, relates only loosely to the history of art, or even the political cartoon itself. The latter is often a finely tuned metaphor, turning drawing into a narrative infographic. The reactionary force of "IndigNation," which has been the source of much of its praise, produces something different: revenge caricatures and revisionist fantasies.
"There's a little bit of a push that has to happen with someone like me," Carrey admitted. "People have to get over a preexisting prejudice about coming from a supposedly different line of work. But it's not a different line of work to me."
It's true. Carrey's staggering talents as a comedian, actor and entertainer are undeniable and seemingly impossible to disentangle from any critique of his work as a visual artist.
Stripped of the context of his celebrity aura, the drawings and paintings resemble much of what can be found stacked on the blankets of any street artist hawking their wares on Venice Beach, or hung on the walls of a college town coffee shop or inked in the pages of an angry teen's notebook. Which makes "IndigNation" more compelling as a case study in the ethics of attention than anything else.
Americans are sorting through the aftermath of the most significant midterm elections in recent US history, where many high-profile figures attempted to leverage their charisma, their celebrity and their platforms to support specific causes and campaigns. Will Ferrell, Tiffany Haddish and Oprah, among others, traveled to Atlanta to rally support for gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, the Democratic challenger whose refusal to concede the very close race amid a flurry of uncounted and provisional ballots could spark a special runoff election against Republican Brian Kemp.
Taylor Swift expressed support for Democratic senate and house candidates Phil Bredesen and Jim Cooper in her home state of Tennessee (the former lost, while the latter was reelected), reportedly causing a spike in voter registration. And, at the 11th hour, Beyoncé Instagrammed her support for Beto O'Rourke, whose campaign to represent Texas in the US senate failed to unseat longtime Republican incumbent Ted Cruz by a tiny margin. The irony that conflating politics with entertainment has forced us to enlist entertainers into politics is not lost on Carrey
"We're electing actors. I hate it. God bless him, he's a wonderful guy, but I don't want to see The Rock be our president ... I don't think I'm going to be stumping for anybody," he said.
But being a celebrity does come with a certain amount of influence. Does he feel a responsibility toward that influence?
"I feel lucky," he said. "I feel lucky to be in one of the last industries on Earth where people can tell the truth."
It's unclear if he's talking about the entertainment industry or the art world. But at the 11th hour, he too tweeted his support for Beto O' Rourke, along with a drawing.