Friday, April 1, 2011

Jill Krementz Photo Journal: McMullan Posters

James McMullan in front of two of the many posters he has done over the years for Lincoln
Center Theater.
McMullan Posters:
Gesture as Design

March 30-June 11, 2011

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
Between 64th and 65th street

If you have ever seen a play at the Lincoln Center Theater you are already familiar with the work of artist James McMullan whose watercolors have been illustrating their playbills and posters for as long as I can remember.

Overhang outside the Library for the Performing Arts, on Amsterdam Avenue
Born in Tsingtao China in 1934, Jim (following the death of his father) emigrated to America with his mother and it was then that he started studying art. In 1955 the young artist enrolled at Pratt and supported himself by designing book jackets. In 1969 he joined the fledgling New York Magazine with Clay Felker and Milton Glaser at its helm. The paintings he did of a Brooklyn disco for the magazine became the visual inspiration for the movie, Saturday Night Fever.

In 1976 McMullan was hired by the late Alexander H. Cohen to design the theatrical poster for Cohen's production of Comedians. The rest as they say is history.

Most recently, Mr. McMullan wrote Line by Line, twelve columns on drawing for The New York Times online, based on the classes he taught at the School of Visual Arts.

My favorite McMullan book is The Theater Posters of James McMullan with a Foreword by his mentor, Bernard Gersten, and an Introduction by the playwright John Guare.

Jim McMullan will be joined by graphic artist Fraver for a discussion: Behind the Poster on Monday, April 4th at 6pm at The New York Public Library for The Performing Arts. Admission is free. Enter at 111 Amsterdam Avenue between 64th and 65th Street. If I were you I would go an hour early and that way you will have plenty of time to see this wonderful exhibition.

What a treat!
Entrance wall to the exhibition.
The exhibition space.
Following a nice introduction by Jacqueline Davis, Mr. McMullan welcomed his friends to the opening night reception and said the show was dedicated to Bernie Gersten, "who has been my champion all these years."
Guests in the Vincent Astor Gallery.
Bernard Gersten, who has been the stalwart champion behind McMullan these many years. Mr. Gersten has been the Executive Producer of Lincoln Center Theater since its reestablishment
in 1985.
Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, who curated
the exhibition.
Linda LeRoy Janklow. Artist Paul Davis and Shirley Glaser.
Garnet Henderson, who as a young assistant modeled for James McMullan when McMullan was working on this image for The Front Page. Henderson is now an illustrator. Here you see him taking up his old pose.
Bruce Nichol, a contractor out in Long Island and a tennis partner of the artist, takes a photo.
Nancy Caldwell and her husband, Ed Sorel. The writer and illustrator have collaborated on several books. Mr. Sorel's work can be seen on the walls of Graydon Carter's two restaurants, The Monkey Bar and The Waverly Inn.
Milton Glaser with Caitlin Mack, designer of the exhibition. Jacqueline Davis, Executive Director of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, with Sarah Billinghurst, artistic manager of The Metropolitan Opera.
Molly and Pete Gurney. Theater producer Jamie deRoy.
Costume Designer William Ivey Long. Mr. Long has designed the costumes for Catch Me If you Can, which is now in previews at the Neil Simon Theater.

"It has been a delight to be reunited with the Hairspray team--the whole gang. We're all so happy to be telling another story in the same theater. I don't even know when the opening night is. For me opening night is the first dress.

I'm also working with David Ives on a new take on The Misanthrope at the Classic Stage Company, which will be directed by Walter Bobbie.

And ... I'm involved with Lucky Guy, a new country-western musical comedy headed for off-broadway."
Architect Paul Aferiat and fashion designer Jeffrey Banks.
McMullan with Dash Shaw and Koren Shadmi. Mr. Shaw, 27, is the author of many best-selling graphic novels, one of which is called Bottomless Bellybuttons. Mr. Shadmi is an illustrator for the Village Voice and The New York Times. Both young men were students of Jim's at SVA.
David Alpern who is producer/host of "For Your Ears Only," a radio show formerly known as "Newsweek on Air." Sally Cook and Milton Glaser. Ms. Cook is an author of books for children and adults. Her upcoming book, Yankee Miracles, will be published in 2012 by W.W. Norton. Mr. Glaser continues to teach his Wednesday night class at SVA and is working on an upcoming exhibit of Shakespeare posters. Glaser mentored practically everyone in the room, including me.
Walter Bernard, a graphic designer and artist, used to work with McMullan at New York Magazine.

"Jim's work is extraordinary. What makes it even more amazing is that even though he has a champion in Bernie Gersten, he must deal with pleasing the playwright, the director, and often star actors to get approval. A daunting task in itself.
Sarah Bernard and her husband, Hugo Lindgren. Ms. Bernard has her own show about fashion called "Thread" on Yahoo. Mr. Lindgren is the editor of The New York Times Magazine.
John Mazzola, former President and Chief Executive of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Greg Therriault and Joe Pintauro. Mr. Therriault is a therapist, Mr. Pintauro a playwright. Longtime partners, they live in Sag Harbor and drove in especially for the show. The day before they had attended the memorial service held at The Whaler's Museum (in Sag Harbor) celebrating the life of our dear friend, the playwright Lanford Wilson, whose recent death has saddened
us all.
James Truman and his wife, designer Leanne Shapton, with art critic Larry Qualls. Ms. Shapton is a wonderful artist and writer, and a former student of Jim's. She worked with him in his NYC studio for a while. When I asked Mr. Truman what he was up to these days he replied: "I'm a Renaissance Man. I occasionally lunch with Si (He was referring to Si Newhouse, of course). I never want to have another job in my life."
Marcellus Hall, an illustrator of children's books whose work appears in The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker.
Bob Caro who continues to work on his epic biography of Lyndon Johnson. "What comes after Johnson Redux?, I asked. Caro replied: "Johnson Mort, I guess." Nathan Urbach, who has been the Director of Young Artist Development Program at the Metropolitan Opera for five years.

Urbach's response to the installation: "Magnified by the exhibition, it's clear that McMullan's masterful strokes have left their footprint on Lincoln Center."
Kate McMullan, who co-authored a children's book with her husband, The Noisy Giant's Tea Party.

"I wrote the book and Jim Illustrated it. This was the first book we did together, and we followed it with 12 more. The necklace was a birthday gift from my friend Mary Spitzer."
Artists Ed Sorel, James McMullan, Milton Glaser, Walter Bernard, and Paul Davis.

"We all stole from the same sources," quipped Sorel.
Leigh McMullan, daughter of the artist. She is a lawyer and lives in Manhattan. Ms. McMullan was also the model for both Hampton Library posters.
McMullan taught at The School of Visual Arts for almost forty years. Many of his present and former students were on hand for the opening night of his exhibit.
Playwright Pete Gurney in front of McMullan's original drawing that would become the poster for The Grand Manner.
Sketches for Ah Wilderness poster which can be viewed in glass vitrine in center of exhibition space.
Finished poster for Ah Wilderness which hangs on nearby wall.
Various vitrines show the process behind the posters. Here you see how a book of Gauguin's drawings came into play.
An animated film of the artist at work can be viewed (and should be). It was produced by The New
York Times.
The McMullans at the end of a wonderful evening.
James McMullan thanking exhibition designer Caitlin Mack and exhibition curator
Barbara Cohen-Stratyner.
Ed Sorel and his wife Nancy Caldwell waiting for the McMullans before they head off to a celebratory post-show dinner at Lincoln.
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz
all rights reserved.