Jim Carrey refers to his body as his “avatar.” It’s the vessel currently doing all the work for his broader consciousness, which has branched out to occupy a wide swath of the space-time continuum.
“I’m everywhere,” he explains. “But my avatar is sitting here talking with you.”
The comedian and movie star — famous for his outlandish characters and penchant for playing existentially troubled protagonists — is not trying to be funny. Nor does he come off as pretentious. The matter-of-fact statement is made off the cuff during a broader conversation about why he feels compelled to create pointedly political, often grotesque, deeply subversive cartoons that have made him a beloved figure of the left on Twitter and led to the opening of his first solo show at Maccarone gallery near downtown Los Angeles, which runs through Dec. 1.
An hour before a private reception that will draw the likes of Judd Apatow, Bill Maher and Rob Reiner, among many other celebrities and mega-collectors, Carrey stands in front of the first of dozens of drawings of President Trump that snake in a line along the towering white walls of the cavernous gallery.
This particular picture features the president in an open bathrobe — his mouth a gaping rictus. He has just finished scooping himself a large sundae and he employs his right index finger in the service of massaging his exposed right nipple.
It’s titled, “You scream. I scream. Will we ever stop screaming?” and Carrey says he sent it to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington with the suggestion that the institution use it as the official portrait of the 45th president. He has yet to hear back.
“He’s eating two scoops,” says Carrey. “He wants to eat all the scoops and he wants to touch his nipple while he does it.”
Moving on, Carrey stops before a picture of Trump’s disgraced former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, slipping on a mask of his face over an alien head with a blood-red maw and a forked tongue. Manafort manifested his own inner creature with his nefarious misdeeds, Carrey says. “You could see it on his face as he was leaving the courthouse.”
There are more cartoons — 108 total in the exhibition “IndigNation: Political Drawings by Jim Carrey, 2016-2018,” and Carrey walks by most of them, including caustic images of Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Jeff Flake and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, stopping occasionally to muse about his inspiration.
Greed, lies, racism, misogyny, cruelty, selfishness and hubris rank high on his list of grievances when it comes to the current administration and its many enablers.
“I will not accept a liar as my leader,” Carrey says later while sitting on a swivel chair in a lounge at the back of the gallery. “There is only one true enemy of the state and that’s the president.”
Leaning over a long, wooden table beside assorted bowls filled with juicy pineapple, ripe watermelon and plump grapes, Carrey resembles a still-life portrait: black jeans, black T-shirt, black boots, close-cropped hair, searing brown eyes, a tension in his jaw that draws his lips tight across his white teeth.
Put him on a wall and take a long look. That’s one angry man. Angry, yes, but there’s more to him. He’s bewildered — hurt even. He says he doesn’t recognize the climate of hate and misanthropy that has come to define this historically divisive American moment.
He has learned to swim in a “river of grief,” he says, and it’s easy to see that he’s talking about deeply personal issues that tie into a larger, overarching sense of despair that has compelled him to draw and draw and draw.
“This is a piercing scream,” he says of the exhibition. “I want people to vote. I feel like if we don’t regain some sort of balance in the midterms, then we’re really lost.”
Carrey has been cartooning since he was a boy — sitting alone in his room, his imagination a wild beast spewing out comedy sketches and unschooled images of whatever thoughts and fantasies happened to take up residence in his feral brain.
Drawing again — and feverishly so — after a lifetime on-screen, feels like childhood to Carrey. And like childhood, his art is impetuous and instinctual, erupting from deep inside his psyche and satisfying a primal urge to speak truth to power.
He can’t help himself. He draws every day in his notebook, returning again and again to the same picture until it is finished, and then posting it on Twitter (@JimCarrey) with a pithy, confrontational caption.
“It’s President’s Day and Chief Little Hands has been busy tweeting from his golf resort, a chip shot away from the latest bloody school shooting. He was hoping to play a few holes while grieving families are busy digging them,” Carrey wrote on Feb. 19, five days after a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., leaving 17 students and staff members dead.
The cartoon features Trump in silhouette with a golf club in his hands, surveying a putting green littered with teenage corpses. “What’s wrong with these kids? Don’t they hear me yell fore?!” he shouts.
Carrey’s only responsibility in this scenario, he says, is to the truth. And truth, he adds, is not subjective or ephemeral. It is as hard and unmovable as stone. It is not to be trifled with. And it will redeem us.
The irony is not lost on Carrey that both he and Trump use Twitter to spread their respective messages.
“He also eats food, just like me,” Carrey says, shrugging off any deeper connection.
Yes, social media is dangerous, but it is also a powerful tool for beaming your message straight to the people. As a celebrity, Carrey’s reach is greater than your average protest artist, a fact that leaves him both humble and grateful.
The number of likes that Carrey’s tweets receive often rival the number of likes that Trump’s tweets receive even though Carrey claims almost 37 million fewer followers. Carrey doesn’t issue his own tweets either — he leaves the job to a trusted assistant because he feels it’s important to take a step back before you shoot a missive into the internet’s collective consciousness. It’s too easy for social media to become a vehicle for tone-deaf misunderstandings.
Carrey’s use of Twitter to disseminate his art, and the fact that he is in the habit of scanning and then tweaking the colors of his original prints before uploading them to the platform, is part of what first attracted gallery owner Michele Maccarone to Carrey’s work.
She believes that the direct collision of art and technology — including AI and VR — will result in a new medium, and she’s excited to represent the advancement of that movement in her gallery.
Maccarone was also taken by the unflinching political protest in Carrey’s work. As an art dealer, she has seen very little of that in recent years, a fact that she finds equal parts surprising and alarming considering the fraught socio-political climate that dominates the international conversation.
“I’m a product of the ’90s, when art was very political,” she says. “I’m not sure where that has gone.”
For Maccarone, Carrey’s art appears “urgent, unfiltered and authentic.”
“He’s a self-taught artist and there’s so much value in that,” she adds.
A giant bouquet of flowers in a square white vase sits beside her as she talks. A card labeled, “To Michele,” is attached to the arrangement. It’s her birthday and Carrey has remembered.
“He is overly generous in every way,” Maccarone writes in an email by way of explanation.
It conjures another statement Carrey made earlier that day. When asked if he has always been political, he responds, “I’ve always been human.”
‘IndigNation: Political Drawings by Jim Carrey, 2016-2018’
Where: Maccarone, 300 S. Mission Road, Los Angeles
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Dec. 1.