James MacCarthy studied in NCAD during the 1970s. During this period the art classes were quite liberal encouraging students to develop their own approach and style through exploration and self-tuition. All of the students attending during this period were working a lot of the time alone. There were set courses and MacCarthy attended drawing classes, but soon after he went on to the sculpture. As he said there are inherent links between drawing and sculpture due to space and line.
It was at NCAD that James was taught the basics principles of sculpture, where during the period he worked solely in plaster. His work during this time varied in size from busts to half size figures. An interest in ceramics and pottery led him to the Kilkenny Design workshop where his work looked to traditional Irish influences. He remained in Kilkenny for a year, after which he returned to Dublin where he set up a studio working primarily in ceramics. He returned to sculpture led by an inherent desire and attraction for creating three-dimensional visual form. He also was financially able to begin casting which is an expensive process and labour intensive, through mould making, and cast cleaning. He stated though that one can vary the process through the use of different materials, and he claimed “its all down to technique”
James work and subject matter emerged from his intuitive non-analytical approach. Much of his work evolved from his imagination, and though is visually based, it has abstract tendencies, looking at purity of form. In many of his pieces he would initially work from sketches and models, “constantly making things up from bits of timber”. His unconscious doodlings led to slightly more formalised, yet essentially free, drawings, which then got structure by sculptural form. His work appears intent at meeting the viewer half way, leading the viewer always to return to their imagination and ponder what will happen next to the subjects McCarthy depicts. It is attractive, familiar and at times outgoing, full of humour and wit. His female elongated figures are sensuous and charming, yet highly expressive.
MacCarthy’s abilities as a sculptor were recognised quickly and as early as 1985 he was exhibiting solo exhibitions at the Cork Arts Society and in-group exhibitions in 1997. His work features in many private collections in Ireland in RTE and the Arts Council, England, Germany and the USA.