Jim Carrey’s Twitter feed is something to behold. Since the 2016 election, the iconic actor has unleashed a torrent of his original political cartoons lambasting the Trump regime with dark humor and bold calls to resistance. Now in an exhibition at downtown L.A.’s Maccarone Gallery, Carrey shares about 100 of the original drawings in a massive exhibition timed to coincide with the midterm elections.
The works are intimate, often on notebook paper, and show textured signs of the artist’s punchy style of drawing and saturated sense of color. Most are acrylic paint marker (and sometimes ink) on 12-by-9-inch sheets of paper, and seeing them in person one gets a visceral sense, a quick mental image of Carrey bent over his pad, working furiously to lavish dense details and emotional contours on his evocative scenes of depravity. Politics aside, it turns out Carrey has a genuine knack for the ages-old art form of editorial cartoons.
But you can’t put politics aside, not for one second. Because the entire raison d’etre of this side of Carrey’s creativity is to wake people up to the urgency of our present electoral situation. Feeling that the First Amendment is a real “use it or lose it” proposition, Carrey tells me that he understood it was his duty as a citizen, especially such a privileged one, to speak out against the galling cruelty and injustice of current government policies.
“I don’t work for anyone,” Carrey tells me, “So I can afford to be on The List!” Oh he’s definitely on The List. We are at a preview for the show, which fills an entire hangar-size gallery with crisp rows of framed single drawings in an understated regiment that balances the emotional whiplash of the collection itself. Each piece is accompanied by the text of the tweet in which it was posted, the majority of which end with the tag “vote.gov.” It’s an impressive, rather epic installation, but Carrey says he never intended to mount an exhibition like this. “It just happened to me,” he says, and he went with it.
As you walk the gauntlet of drawings and texts, expect a bit of an emotional roller coaster. These works are not just satire, nor unrelenting polemic. They alternate between wit and rage, mockery and despair, savagery and nuance. Religious hypocrisy, the evils of capitalism, moral vacuity, sexual deviance, Freudian dysfunction, physical ugliness, the embrace of fascism, racism and corruption — it’s all in there. But the drawings themselves are often quite beautiful, even at their most grotesque.
There’s a classic strategy at play here, of using an attractive aesthetic to get a point across, Carrey says of his images of heroes like Robert Mueller and compromised figures from Trump to Putin, Zuckerberg to Melania, even Ronald McDonald. “You use the look of a cartoon, and then you slip the message in,” he says. And in fact, that combination of humor and darkness has been a trademark of Carrey’s comedy career as well.
“It is like acting,” he tells me. “When I draw Bolton and the rest, I become them.” He has a gift for homing in on a character — real or fictional — and finding the one thing that makes them tick. That kind of empathetic exaggeration has the power to reveal a deeper truth. Political and editorial cartoons have worked this way from Daumier to Charlie Hebdo to Doonesbury — to “IndigNATION.” It’s the foundation of all the most effective caricature.
“Wait!” he exclaims. “Did you just say … “Carreycature?”
Yes, Jim Carrey. Yes, I did.
IndigNATION: Political Drawings by Jim Carrey, 2016-2018 is on view at Maccarone, 300 S. Mission Road, downtown; maccarone.net, through Dec. 1; free.