Thursday, February 07, 2013

Franklin McMahon: "The artist must get out of the studio and look around."

In 1968, CA Magazine featured a cover by Franklin McMahon and included a major article on the artist and his work.


"There have been dramatic developments in hand held cameras and fast film," says McMahon in that article. "There have also been dramatic photographers to go with them," he continues. "These photographers approach their subject with high artistry. However, when you get to a place, you discover there's a photographic approach..."

(Below, photo of Franklin McMahon, 1968)

"... and there's an artist's approach."

(Below, Franklin McMahon illustration from a 1963 LOOK magazine series on "The New Japan.")

Whereas McMahon worked directly in ink at the time of the mid-1950s American Artist article I posted earlier this week, a decade later he seems to have switched to pencil.

(Below, a 1961 McMahon illustration for Fortune magazine)

"315 very black, and I often come back in with a charcoal pencil," he tells the author of the CA article. "When the pencil dulls I sharpen it with a razor blade."

(Above, a McMahon drawing for Sports Illustrated, year unknown)

McMahon often made notes on his drawings, as seen below in this picture of author Frank Yerby, done for Tuesday Magazine.


McMahon usually sat on a low, collapsible stool while he worked. "It's not too comfortable," said McMahon, "but the position of the artist has never been too comfortable in American society."


"I'm not so sure we should be comfortable."


Ultimately, McMahon believed that "how a drawing is made isn't so important as what it has to say."

For McMahon, that often meant bringing together drawings done with or without an assignment - and from different locations. He took his pencil and drawing pad everywhere. "Getting out of the studio and looking around" was not just something he said, it was a personal philosophy he was entirely committed to.

The drawing above, for instance, done when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at a suburban rally in Winnetka, Illinois, jibes perfectly with McMahon's drawings for a story the artist and his wife wrote about the parish of Our Lady of Sorrows, below.


In the tumultuous days of 1960s civil liberties and human rights struggles, the McMahons documented the challenges faced by this once influential church and parochial school. Below, one of the few remaining white property owners in that Chicago neighbourhood sat for McMahon...


"We get along fine with our new neighbors," she told the artist, "but our old friends won't visit us any more."

(Below, a freedom marcher McMahon documented on a trip to Selma, Alabama)

Explaining how he would bring together drawings from various locations, McMahon said, "A guy that works like I do gets ideas in one place that feed back into ideas that occurred in another place, though at the time they weren't considered as part of the same story."

Continued tomorrow


  1. Those are some pretty interesting illustrations =]

  2. McMahon continues to fascinate.