Patsy Mcarthur is a Scottish artist based in London. We met when she was in Berlin at a Big Lebowski night where everyone had to drink ‘Caucasians’ in time with the Dude. It’s harder than you think to put that much milk down your throat without your stomach turning to pure butter. After that night Patsy took off to New York to exhibit a series of paintings she’s been working on. It was the middle of all that Wallstreet imbroglio. Fanny Mai, Northern Rock and Bear Sterns were as household as Michael Jackson, and Patsy took a group of parkour kids, dressed them in suits then painted them jumping off the peaks of Manhattan skyscrapers. I wrote this for her exhibition at the Whitney.
Patsy Mcarthur’s work always tends to take a sideways glance at the human figure. She likes to take a regular character, drop them onto a canvas and see what shape they land in.
This time round they’re the white collar fraternity. And instead of granting the luckless suits the good grace to idle their days away at office desks and water coolers, Mcarthur has launched them forth on a tumultuous escapade across a downtown Manhattan skyline.
Mcarthur is Scottish, and like all people from small communities on the periphery of continents, she’s been forced to create a larger living space for herself. She spent a while in Barcelona, then Berlin and finally New York, the city Hollywood never tires of depicting as the only city that matters. But as the only city that matters it’s saddled with all those negative elements we associate with living the high-rise dream. It’s cold and lonely, and even the strong can find themselves upended by a hail of inexorable indifference. New York City is a poster boy for the rat race and Mcarthur’s suits are both the victims and the survivors of it.
In identikit office wear, they throw themselves off the building tops. They’re escaping from god knows what but you can be sure, to them, it’s well worth risking a life for. They race to the bottom, eschewing usual career path logic. Mcarthur doesn’t tell us whether they survive or not. For all we know some of them may be as adept at urban athletics as any other office worker and they’ll crash headlong into the ground.
But a few of them, at least, manage to plot a path to street level and start walking. They leave the city behind them. And we’re left to wonder, what exactly made them leave? And, more importantly, what kind of place will they inhabit now that they’ve turned their back on their secretaries, their ninety minute commutes and their lunch is for wimps. They bid farewell to the loneliness of the big city experiment and go in search of a community offering something better.
In black and grey and blue charcoal, Mcarthur’s figures are like the pioneers of a brave new world. They escape from metropolis without so much as popping a button on their shirts. They bid farewell to dystopia and cast a sharp eye west towards a real or just imagined utopia.
Funny thing is, walking together with the city at their backs and their escape playing out to a tee, you can’t help but notice that our heroes don’t seem any less lonely or any more engaged with their environment. Maybe they’re mourning for their friends who didn’t make it, or maybe regretting a poor decision, and perhaps, when you scrape your way down to the bottom of things, you find New York wasn’t to blame for anything at all, it was themselves.