September 7 – October 2, 2012
Paintings by Lee McClure
Photography by Big Tiny Smalls
“We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.”
The Amazing Criswell
Criswell looks absurd sitting next to Johnny Carson. He’s wearing a sequined tuxedo and a white tie. They share Johnny’s desk. The bit goes like this; Criswell reads from the cue cards he’s prepared and Johnny interrupts him with snappy jabs. He mocks Criswell’s apparent sincerity. Criswell is predicting the future. He says,” Fashions for both men and woman will soon become indistinguishable. These new tunics will come in only three sizes and have no colours.” Carson’s eyes widen as he looks out at the audience,”You don’t say!”
Criswell started to predict the future while selling vitamins on television in L.A in the nineteen-fifties. He had bought too much air time and needed to pad out his infomercials. Initially the predictions would revolve around the health benefits of the vitamins but eventually they began to tackle broader issues. After the infomercial went off the air he carried on making predictions at a local radio station where he honed his act.
In recordings Criswell sounds very relaxed. He seems at once confident in the veracity of his claims and resigned to how ridiculous it is to make them. There is something about listening to a fortune teller:a weird tension between the desire not to be fooled and the desire to believe that the future can be known. When I listen to Criswell I’m surprised to find myself filling in gaps between his more staid predictions and the historical record. He claimed to be 87 percent accurate in his predictions and the banality of some of them is striking: “I predict that there will be two political movements! One liberal and one conservative!” He would pepper his outlandish speculations with these ringers for two dissonant purposes: one, to create the sense that all of his predictions were equally possible, and two, to produce the rhythm needed for comedy.
The broadness of Criswell’s performance keeps the audience from identifying too deeply with him. We laugh at his hubristic display and are momentarily distracted from the thought that we too are engaged in the same fanciful act. We delude ourselves that it is we who somehow know the future and not the fortune teller. Criswell sitting there next to Johnny Carson becomes the negative proof of his audience’s ability to divine the future.
“I predict the assassination of Fidel Castro by a woman, on August 9, 1970.”
Criswell shakes Johnny’s hand, leaves the stage and the audience is stripped of their new power.
My paintings are an attempt to illustrate the impossible space we inhabit when we consider the future. They aim to explore the loneliness and comedy of that space. My bearded men cannot know what they wish to know and so are left wall-eyed at the ever expanding nature of their questions. They are naked and foolish in the face of eternity.