McMahon covering the McGovern Convention
By Jeffery McNary
Illustration is one of the last great art forms to be recognized by the art establishment. Perhaps because it exists in service to reportage, illustration has yet to ‘come up,’ as it were. It is, however, a well-developed style with major players. At 88 years old, Franklin McMahon looms large, his legacy bundled with some of Chicago’s biggest news stories. McMahon’s realist art captures, on an epic scale, many of the significant events and figures of the past sixty years. It’s a symphony of extensive notes. In graphite, charcoal and acrylic the illustrator substantiates history, providing crisp insight into a moment’s look and feel: politicos, popes, campaigns, cardinals, courtrooms and conventions.
A selection of the artist’s drawings and paintings are currently on exhibition at the Loyola University Museum of Art, with a focus on his religious and civic contributions. Jonathan Canning, the Martin D’Arcy Curator of Art, says of McMahon’s works, “This is a lost art he’s called to. The camera is so ubiquitous we forget that such persons did such work for so very long.” McMahon has written, “The artist who draws directly on the site can see around corners, adding dimension to viewpoint, getting ideas, heightening reality.” He captures bishops in white miters entering St. Peter’s Basilica, the magnificent Baroque dome, impressive marble pillars and statues of saints about the rooftop share a harmony, as if the artist is lifted mid-way up the obelisk and the piazza’s center for a privileged glimpse of it all.
A native Chicagoan, McMahon spent a portion of his childhood in California, and there began drawing posters for school plays. Returning home, he completed studies at Fenwick Catholic High School where he began drawing cartoons, selling one to Collier’s Weekly a week before graduation. Entering the Army Air Corps during WWII, McMahon was shot down over Germany and spent four months as a POW. War’s end found him in evening studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago while continuing to draw freelance. There’s small wonder that sensitive mix of church and politics placed its brand upon his psyche and his creative passions. His love of the city comes through in his engaging book of drawings and paintings, “Chicago Impressions.” “My work has been half assignment, half self-initiated,” says the artist-reporter. “It’s helped that my wife is a travel writer.” Read the rest of this entry »