Mark McMahon’s workspace is not as subdued as a bank office — even though it includes a vault.
Two open briefcases feature a box of Crayola crayons and paper towel rolls. Behind him rests a three-foot piece of ash that was transformed into a McMahon No. 1 pencil, a 50th birthday gift.
To the right of the artist’s studio is the vault, its massive door open, within which a Highwood bank president and employees were locked during a 1930s robbery. Today, metal drawers hold various paintings and drawings of the artist along with those of his late father, Franklin.
The walls outside the vault are graced with scores of paintings and prints about sports, with others propped up on the floor. It’s all part of the “Baseball And Other Sports” art show which runs from Wednesdays-Saturdays until Aug. 11.
“I’ve been doing sports a long time,” says the 64-year-old, who remembers a young Leroy Neiman — perhaps the best-known sports artist ever — selling sketches at the Art Fair on the Square in Lake Forest for $35 a pop.
Though baseball is the exhibit’s main focus — watercolor and acrylic paintings of ballparks from Yankee Stadium to Safeco Field can be found — other sports are amply represented. Two jockeys from Arlington Park are covered with mud, except for their eyes. A drawing of the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup parade sketched from McMahon’s seat near The Art Institute is on a table ready to be painted. Earlier that day, his interpretation of this year’s Game 6, which had caught a customer’s eye in the front window, was sold for $4,500.
McMahon — who still plays softball — has been a stellar athlete himself. Attending Adams State in Colorado on a scholarship, he captained the squad for three years. He was a center and middle linebacker at Lake Forest High School before busted ribs shortened his career. Once a stable boy at the Onwentsia Club back when horses were housed there, he was sent to polo school in Oak Brook and learned the sport under Michael Butler.
“I did sports because, in the art game, it’s the only time you’re a team player,” he says. “When you go into a corporation, you know how to deal with guys. There’s no more innermost feeling. You just have to get the job done.”
He has covered major events from the Indianapolis 500 (his paintings when he was embedded with a pit crew were featured in Sports Illustrated) to the Virginia Slims tennis tournaments. He remembers watching a Billie Jean King press conference and chatting with a then-unknown young blonde. It was Chris Evert.
“All the things you were doing making a living, you were right in the middle of history,” he says.
McMahon’s work, of course, reaches far beyond sports. He drew the first launch of the Space Shuttle (his father recorded the landing). He created a 125th anniversary painting for Abbott Laboratories. Often his work has been highlighted in international and national art magazines.
When asked to describe his style, the mustachioed artist answers simply.
“It’s just like an artist’s report of events,” he says. “I’m just an observer who sits in the background.”
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