Something to See Here

Actor Jim Carrey’s serial humor belies his artful quest to make sense of the world and affect people’s lives

Jim Carrey installation view at Heather James Fine Art


Black lights perched on two towers point toward High Visibility, a 16-foot-tall, Pop-style painting filled with figuratively drawn archetype characters and winding text that’s at once emotional, philosophical, and moral. It is a dizzying swirl of love, lust, betrayal, abandonment, and other emotional bondage — each as personal in conception as it is universal to its audience.

“This is the first time I’ve seen the painting upright,” says the artist, Jim Carrey, who worked more than 400 hours on the piece in his New York studio. “Physically, it was a tremendous challenge working on sections of it while hanging from scaffolding and with all the emotional ups and downs.”

The painting arrived at Heather James Fine Art in Palm Desert on a flatbed truck — one of 40 works in the comic actor’s first solo exhibition, Nothing to See Here.

Carrey, who turns 50 this month, directs his assistants and the gallery staff to position the lights for optimum effect. “I’m addicted to the idea of creation,” he beams. “I think you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re creating for yourself. You create for other people to experience it.”

Two days later, the gallery — which typically shows Impressionist and Modern masters and the cream of contemporary art — would open the exhibition to an exclusive guest list.

After determining how to conceal the light towers, Carrey walks through the gallery’s three salons, inspecting the installation, which includes two larger-than-life Fiberglas sculptures, two videos, and a Twitter conversation projected and scrolling on facing walls.

Looking toward the part of High Visibility that shows a man and woman embracing, he reads the woman’s illuminated quote: “… and when the whole of me is not enough, what then when I’m older. Will your light be kind[?]”

Text permeates many of his paintings. He even jokes about creating his own typeface for his distinctive script.

The paintings in the show include Pop-style portraits of friends, such as Pamela Anderson, whose eyes reflect a man silhouetted by the moon, and social commentaries, like the one about gossips: Have You Heard What They Are Saying?

Possibly the most compelling picture is The Unfinished Abandonment of Self — a near throwaway. “It sat on the easel for a long time,” Carrey says. “I got sick of looking at it. I shredded it up, and I went to take a shower. Then I realized it wasn’t about me; it was about being invisible, getting past this selfish place. Visibility is being upfront and honest. No one wants to see that.”

In the painting, a male figure, literally coming apart, stands in front of a long, single-story white house with a Post-Impressionist-style tree in the yard. The work displays plenty of evidence — from the sophisticated composition to perfectly rendered bricks with slightly varied values of red — that the funnyman possesses fine art chops.

Carrey had reassembled the 35x45-inch painting by stitching the pieces with black wire — a technique that also surfaces in Heart Upon Re-entry, Hard Upon Re-entry, Hard Up On Re-entry.

“When I’m involved in creation, whether it be a movie, a painting, a joke, a song, or a sculpture, it stops the world for me,” he says in his artist statement (“I hope you read it. I worked really hard on it.”). “At best, I think an artist’s work also stops the viewer from thinking, worrying, or dressing what they are looking at with their mood or interpretation, bringing them into presence as well.”

He achieves this by addressing personal issues that resonate beyond himself — such as the paintings in his Shattered series, which he says are about “broken people. We’re all broken.” These pictures, “shattered” with brushstrokes, include We’re Not on the Same Page, a diptych showing a figure throwing a punch on one side and taking a punch on the other side; Lohan, which shows the actress in her 40s and being led into court by two men who lust after her; and Hooray, We’re All Broken, which consists of traced silhouettes of his own gesticulating body.

He finished the latter piece relatively quickly compared to, say, Disappearing at the Laser Peel Party, with which he became bored painting the minutiae of details. It features three robed women, devilishly red, one with a pointed tongue. Her claw-like fingers clutch an American Express Gold Card, while the woman flanking her left side looks on with a rolled-up dollar bill and a bottle of Belvedere vodka. “I probably worked on 20 paintings before I came back to it,” Carrey says. “But boredom has a real payoff for me. I figured out my scraping technique [used on the Shattered paintings]. Everything painful has a payoff for me.”

One payoff reveals itself in One Last Push, a 9x12-foot, black light-enhanced painting that he exhibits with a video projected on the gallery’s cement floor. If the soundtrack seems familiar, it’s because John Mayer came by and played guitar while Carrey worked on this emotionally wrenching piece.

“We met at Saturday Night Live,” Carrey says. “I love the energy he brings. He’s one of the greatest guitar players of our day.”

But the painting is serious business, with roots deep into his childhood: a drunken grandfather (whom Carrey imitated at the age of 7, unwittingly helping his family heal) and a mother so depressed that she believed her life held no value. “I carried that around with me my whole life,” Carrey says. “I still do. Once I knew my [humor] could help people, I consciously made a decision to be like my dad, who could hold the attention of a room, and prove to my mother that she’s worth something, that she created a miracle in me.”

Although Carrey has made painting his full-time endeavor for only a couple years, he has expressed himself this way since he was in elementary school. “I was scolded for sketching the teachers,” he says. “I’d finish assignments early and then draw. After I became famous [on the TV comedy In Living Color], my sixth-grade teacher sent me sketches she had confiscated. She kept them because she thought they were cute. She also knew how to harness the energy. If I was quiet, she would give me 15 minutes at the end of class to perform. Today, I’d be on Ritalin, and Ace Ventura would have never been made.”

One Last Push allowed Carrey to release his pent-up guilt and find some measure of peace. “I believe the purpose of art is to bring people into presence, to free them from thoughts of their past or their future,” he declares in his artist statement. “This involvement, this presence, this Freedom From Concern is what I playfully refer to as The Church of FFC.

“Bringing Freedom From Concern has been my life’s mission from the time I knew I could bring relief as a child, first to my family, who struggled with illness, addiction, and poverty, and then to the world. It is what I now seek for myself: freedom through honesty, freedom through absurdity, freedom through expression of every kind. My greatest hope for this exhibition is that you find something here that stops the world for you.”  

Tap into the real life of Jim Carrey at his new website,

Comments to this website are moderated by staff. While all comments are welcome, we encourage all to be polite and please do not use this system for advertising or business promotions. Any complaint towards a business or service should be directed directly to that business and not posted here. If anyone has a complaint that a comment is defamatory, please contact me at and I will take appropriate action promptly. Thank You

Add your comment:
Edit Module
Palm Springs Life
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

Splash House Adds Acts to August Lineup

After its first sell-out event in June, the lineup for Splash House's sequel on Aug. 8-9 has grown with a second phase of lineup additions.

Hyatt Palm Springs Hosts Summer "Silent DJ" Pool Parties

Hyatt Palm Springs kicks off its summer season with a series of lively “Aqua Libre” Saturday evening summer pool gatherings known as “Silent DJ” parties starting June 20.

The Desert's Best

Here are the Readers' Choices for: Best Pizzeria, Best Continental Restaurant, Best Outdoor Dining, and Best Place for Women's Apparel.

The Service is the Show

PS Underground has created culinary experiences in the desert since 2013 — from a picnic at the polo grounds to a full-scale re-creation of the last dinner on the Titanic.

Short Films, Big Festival

Ask a film lover to describe the moment cinema changed his life, and you’re likely to get an enthusiastic response. For Darryl Macdonald, executive director of the Palm Springs International Film Society, that moment came when his parents took him to see Bonnie and Clyde.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions + Contests

2014/15 Best of the Best

2014/15 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.
GuestLife Magical Monterey Bay Experience

GuestLife Magical Monterey Bay Experience

Romantic Palm Springs Getaway

Romantic Palm Springs Getaway

Experience the beauty, romance and excitement of the Palm Springs area when you enter to be the lucky winner of this romantic couples getaway
Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.