The multi-talented outsider artist Richard McMahan is on a quest to painstakingly re-create thousands of famous and not-so-famous paintings and artifacts-- in miniature. From well-loved Picasso and Frida Kahlo paintings to more obscure intricate Maori canoes, McMahan has mastered dozens of genres over 30 years of creating, and he’s made most of it on a cluttered kitchen counter using recycled materials. McMahan is also the curator of a mini-museum with a collection that surveys the scope of humanity’s visual record. Olympia Stone directs this surprising portrait of a most unusual artist.
Directed by Olympia Stone
Cast: Richard McMahan
Cinematography: Simone Telles Keith
Last fall, I screened Curious Worlds at the Halsey Institute in Charleston, SC. Mark Sloan, the curator of the museum, told me he had an idea for my next film project. I was intrigued as he described an artist named Richard McMahan whose work Sloan exhibited at the Halsey in 2008. Mark described McMahon as an outsider artist with a remarkable life mission: creating miniature copies of humankind’s greatest artworks. McMahan’s project is truly audacious, to assemble these works into a “mini museum” that documents the development of art across human history—from the pre-historical Lascaux cave paintings, to an Egyptian Pharaoh’s tomb, to a 1970’s Ralph Goings painting and everything in between.
Mark’s description was so interesting that I called Richard more or less immediately and, after some discussion, started filming last February. The result is “The Original Richard McMahan,” a 20-minute short film that serves as an introduction to Richard and his extraordinary artistic spirit and mission.
Richard exhaustively researches and considers each item before recreating it. In essence, this process amounts to a kind of curation – his mini-museum isn’t just a collection of miniature artistic recreations, it is itself an original work reflecting a unique vision. And, although he lacks substantial artistic training and is often described as an “outsider” artist, his curatorial decisions are based on an impressive knowledge of art history. Richard can tell you not just about the art itself, but also about the life of the artist, their relationships, and their influences. This knowledge arises out of a passion that is visceral. There is nothing aloof or academic about Richard’s relationship to the art he studies. As you get to know him, what becomes obvious is that he relates to these artists personally, his passion for their work arises out of the fact that they and their expressions mean something to him that is immediate and personal.
Richard calls his art collection “the greenest art collection in the world” because it’s made from recycled materials that he finds around his home in Jacksonville, FL. McMahan attended an arts-based high school in Jacksonville, where he began his “mini museum” project 27 years ago. The range of artistic media is impressive, including sculpture, painting, furniture and ceramics. To date, there are over 1,100 works in the mini-museum and it continues to grow. One of Richard’s goals is to find a permanent home for his “mini museum” and to use it to teach people about the artists and objects that make up our shared human history.
Among the questions I explore in the film: Is Richard merely copying great artworks? What is the line between making imitation versus creation? And finally, what drives someone to take on a project like this?