Life

This Artist Infuses Forgotten Paintings With Whimsy By Adding Monsters


Chris McMahon was in the middle of teaching an art class when he first got the email that Weezer was interested in using his art for their album cover. He was so shocked he nearly walked right out of the room. Luckily, he was able to keep it together until the class was over. He soon found out that the band had fallen in love with a particular painting of his, a large, furry monster taking a stroll right through a mountainous landscape. They were approaching the Iowa high school teacher about getting the rights.

“I was all for that, obviously,” McMahon says with a laugh. The painting came from McMahon’s collection of what he calls “involuntary collaborations.” Basically, he combs through thrift stores and garage sales to find old landscape paintings lost to time, and then adds his own special touches, usually a monster. The result breathes whimsical second life into the paintings which have long languished in dank basements and musty attics.

McMahon turns them from dull thrift store trifles to quirky, must-have pieces.

McMahon started to get serious about illustration and drawing when he was in high school, but it wasn’t until he was studying art in college at the University of Iowa that he became serious about painting. Canvases can get expensive though, so as a starving artist, he did everything he could to keep costs down.

“I tended to go to auctions, Goodwill, and yard sales to try to find canvases just to paint on,” he says. “Normally, if I found something for a dollar at an auction, I would white it out and just paint over it.”

This process made McMahon feel vaguely guilty though — like he was destroying someone else’s loved creation to make his own. Then one day, he was at a garage sale where he was struck by a particular painting that someone was just getting rid of.

“I found a painting of a purplish landscape with a lake right in the front. I thought it wasn’t that bad,” he says. “It looked like it was almost unfinished, because it had this great lake with nothing in it. So instead of just whiting it out, I added in this little sea serpent thing. It took off from there.”


McMahon began looking for pieces to add to rather than destroy. He explains the process of making his additions feel organic as if that cute monster was just always coming out of the lake.

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