Episode 526 – James McMullan

Virtual Memories Show 526:
James McMullan

“If I can teach people to pay attention to the human figure, they will start paying attention to life in general, in a more intense way.”

Legendary artist and illustrator James McMullan joins the show to celebrate his new book, HELLO WORLD: The Body Speaks in the Drawings of Men (Pointed Leaf Press). We talk about James’ three-plus decades of posters for Lincoln Center Theater, the importance of the human figure in his art, how drawing with color opened a more expressive channel for him, and why Hello World is his most personal project (even more than his memoir). We get into the intersection of illustration & fine art and whether he resented being overlooked by the museum set, the experience of making more than 90 (!) posters for Lincoln Center Theater over the decades and helping define NYC theater (despite being neither “a New York guy” nor a hardcore theater-goer), how he makes his art in a perpetual state of risk and being willing to let that risk show, the ways his literary reading feeds his art and vice versa, and how he invested $11,000 in a supply of his favorite paper a dozen years ago and how it feels to reach the last of it. Plus, we discuss his High Focus Drawing approach, the gestalt between model and artist, how it felt to be a ‘sissy kid’ who found power in art, why he shows feet when everyone else is focused on the intimacy of close-up faces, and a lot more. Give it a listen! And go get HELLO WORLD!

“As a good, successful illustrator you probably have more effect on the culture you’re working in than a lot of fine artists do.”

“When people want to talk about or teach drawing, they want to make it a system, and treat the human figure like a piece of furniture.”

“I’m not the miracle; the figure I’m looking at is the miracle.”

“One of the miracles was that the people at Lincoln Center just Got It immediately.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

James McMullan’s 90 posters for Lincoln Center Theater include Anything Goes, Carousel, The Front Page, and My Fair Lady. His paintings of a Brooklyn disco for New York Magazine became the visual inspiration for the movie Saturday Night Fever. With his wife Kate he has created many children’s books, including the perennial favorite, I Stink! His other books include Revealing Illustrations, The Theater Posters of James McMullan, and the illustrated memoir of his WWII childhood, Leaving China. He taught drawing at the School of Visual Arts in New York City for more than 20 years. His newest book is Hello World.

(There’s a more extensive bio at his site.)

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at James’ apartment on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4 digital recorder & interface. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of James by me; all the artwork by him. It’s on my instagram.

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