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January 23, 2017

Poster Perfect: The Art of James McMullan

by Erik Piepenburg for the New York Times

James Mcmullan

No other living artist is more closely identified with an American theater company than James McMullan. For 30 years, his painterly posters for Lincoln Center Theater have been turned into collectibles that are more than advertising: They’re synonymous with the shows themselves. It’s hard to think of “Carousel” without recalling his artwork for the 1994 revival that depicts a brooding Billy Bigelow, vividly illuminated from below, atop wooden horses that rear beneath an angry sky.

Click here to read the full story

January 8, 2014

James McMullan mentioned on Theater Mania
Check Out Old Broad-WAY in the Artwork for Lincoln Center Theater's Moss Hart Bio-Play, Act One

James McMullan Poster for Act OneArtist James McMullan has designed dozens of posters for Lincoln Center Theater, ranging from musicals like Carousel and The Light in the Piazza to dramas like A Delicate Balance and Other Desert Cities. We, however, feel like McMullan outdid even his best work for the upcoming Broadway production of Act One, James Lapine's stage adaptation of playwright Moss Hart's legendary memoir. McMullan manages to capture the spirit of the shows in all of his pieces, but this one, with Hart staring off at the bright lights of Broadway marquees (including the Music Box, where his first play, Once in a Lifetime, opened), takes the cake.

Act One begins previews March 20 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, with an opening night set for April 17. Directed by Lapine, the production stars  Tony nominees Tony Shalhoub and Santino Fontana as playwright Hart at various ages.

December 13, 2012

Jame McMullan in the Atlantic

Could the King of Disco Art have Lived Anywhere but New York? Of Course Not

By Steven Heller, co-chair of the MFA Design program at the School of Visual Arta and co-founder of the MFA Design Criticism program.

A new exhibition spotlights James McMullan, whose illustrations have helped defined a Gotham's art scene for half a century.

Few contemporary illustrators have contributed to New York City's visual legacy as much as James McMullan—from visual essays in New York Magazine during in the '60s and '70s (including the imagery for the article that inspired the film Saturday Night Fever) to an ongoing series of narrative posters for the Lincoln Center Theater. McMullan, born in 1934 in Tsingtao, China, the son of Anglican missionaries, has always needed, what he calls "the laissez-faire of New York to release the tortured artist underneath." The sophistication of his New York clients, and support of playwrights like John Guare and art directors like Milton Glaser, have allowed him "to sneak doses of melancholy energy into assignments that were ostensibly about something else: The loneliness of my disco paintings, for instance, as opposed to the glitter and sheen of the movie." On the occasion of his first major retrospective at New York's School of Visual Arts, McMullan says that, "It's hard to imagine my getting away with so much uncommercial attitude in Los Angeles."

The "SVA Masters Series" exhibition is an honor bestowed on artists, designers, or admen on whose shoulders others in their disciplines have stood. McMullan's work dating from 1957 (on view at SVA's Master's Gallery, 209 East 23rd St.) reveals an evolutionary process of what he calls the struggle "to use drawing, particularly of the figure, to express the emotional content of the stories and plays I am commissioned to illustrate." Anyone involved with or interested in the act of drawing will find McMullan's struggles to be as illuminating as the actual illustrations.

The SVA Gallery is located at 209 East 23rd Street. Visit

» Read the complete article here

January 19, 2012

James McMullan from Container List, a blog of the Milton Glaser Design Study Center

James McMullan on the grid
By Beth Kleber

I’m not sure there’s a greater significance to James McMullan’s use of grids, but I noticed them in sufficient number to start thinking about why they might have appealed to him. The grids impose order, but I’ve always thought of McMullan’s work as deceptively methodical. He often creates works based on staged photographs, and at first glance, the drawings can appear to be a wholly faithful representation. A close look, however, reveals something brooding and wistful, maybe dangerous. The grids add a sense of being confined and a longing for escape (intentional or not). » Read the complete article here

Container List is the blog of the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives, featuring weekly graphics and ephemera from the design archives at the School of Visual Arts.

For this and other articles featuring the work of Mr. McMullan, visit the Container List at the Glaser Archives.



Press for "Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood"

Read about this Memoir and enjoy several excerpts

Leaving China; a Memoir by James McMullan

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February 27, 2015

Leaving China – a painted memoir about growing up during WW2

By Wink. James McMullan, an illustrator and watercolorist known for his popular theatrical posters for Lincoln Center as well as various children’s book covers, has created a beautiful memoir entitled Leaving China.  This book of childhood “visual memories” combines short stories and haunting paintings about growing up during the turmoil of World War II.

McMullan, the son of a British businessman, was born in 1934 into a prosperous family in pre-war China. His family enjoyed many luxuries until war was eminent and the Japanese invasion forced the family from their hometown. Leaving China crisscrosses the globe and captures a young boy’s experiences with loss, love, loneliness and self-discovery. This book is appropriate for ages 12 and up. – Carole Rosner

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

July 29, 2014

Pittsburgh Press reviews James McMullan's Leaving China

Illustrator James McMullan Draws readers into "Leaving China..."

By Ruth Spurlock. James McMullan is best known in children’s literature as the illustrator of “I Stink,” the picture book story of a garbage truck. His newest work is something quite different.

“Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood” (Algonquin Young Readers, $19.95, ages 12 to 18) tells the story of prewar colonial China. It also details the domino of events that slingshots the young artist across the world and back again.

Read Entire Review

July 18, 2014


A Portrait of the Watercolorist as a Young Man

By Francis Levy. The provenance of the famed illustrator James McMullan's iconic poster for Lincoln Center's Anything Goes is to be found in the exhibit of watercolors from his recently published memoir Leaving China, currently on display at The John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor. McMullan's father had been the child of missionaries (McMullan's grandparents had founded a orphanage in China). 

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April 18/25, 2014

A Childhood in Watercolors

By Tina Jordan. In his evocative memoir Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood, James McMullan rings his early years alive through sprightly prose and the delicate, violet tinged paintings that grace every page.

The school McMullan attended in China was famous among expatriate families; other graduates included the publisher Henry Luce and the playwright Thornton Wilder.

New Books for Young Readers

By Sonja Bolle Newsday. James McMullan’s beautiful illustrated memoir, “Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood” (Algonquin Books, $19.95, ages 12 and older), makes me wonder if autobiography is an under-mined vein of literature for young readers.

McMullan was always a dreamy child, more comfortable copying Chinese scrolls than doing sports, and fearful of disappointing his larger-than-life father. He grew up to be a successful illustrator (and creator, with his wife, Kate McMullan, of irresistible children’s books: “I Stink!” “I’m Fast!” “I’m Dirty!”). Born into a missionary family in Cheefoo, China, the little boy saw plenty of strain in his parents’ lives even before the Japanese invasion and the family’s rude expulsion from their privileged expatriate life. His memories are rich with detail: Mandarin nicknames, the shouting of conquering Japanese troops on parade, the exotic cleanliness of a cousin’s American home, boarding school pranks carried out in the shadow of the Himalayas.

Read entire review

April 27, 2014


By Lori McAnnally. As a boy, artist James McMullan enjoyed a privileged life in Tsingtao, North China, including servants and a rickshaw driver at his disposal. When World War II broke out, young Jim and his mother escaped the country while his father stayed behind to serve in the Allied forces.

Read entire review.


April 5, 2014

The Star Tribune reviews Leaving China by James McMullan

REVIEW: 'Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood,' by James McMullan

By Tom Zelman. James McMullan’s fascinating and often disturbing memoir, while part of the Algonquin Young Readers series, will appeal equally to older readers. McMullan was born into a well-to-do merchant family living near Shanghai, and his early memories read like a vintage MGM film: servants, outings, dinner dress, galas. Yet, as he tells us, his book is about “a nervous boy” searching for “a way to be in the world.” And James has a lot to be nervous about. As he approaches adolescence, the world he knows crumbles as the Japanese invade, his father enlists, and he and his mother sail to Canada on the last passenger liner heading out.

Read the complete article at the Star Tribune.

April 1, 2014

East Hampton Star Reviews Leaving China by James McMullan

Long Island Books: Boyhood Dreams

By Sasha Watson. In full-page watercolor paintings, each matched with a brief elucidation of some moment of the author’s childhood, frequently placed in historical context, that world is brought to life in lovely, poetic detail. Though the book is aimed at young readers, one wonders if it won’t appeal even more to adults interested in this period of history and in the emotional development of a young artist.

Read the entire article at the East Hampton Star

March 26, 2014

James McMullan in the New York Times

The Accidential Wanderer

James McMullanby Elaine Louie. James McMullan has painted 80 posters for Lincoln Center Theater, won a New York Times best illustrated book award for “I Stink!” written by his wife, Kate McMullan, and has just written and illustrated a memoir, “Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood” (Algonquin, $19.95). Born in 1934 in Tsingtao (now Qingdao), China, he was 3 when his family moved to the coastal city of Cheefoo (now Yantai). In 1941, three years after the Japanese invaded Cheefoo, Mr. McMullan and his mother took off for San Francisco, while his father joined the British Army.

» Read the complete article at the New York Times.

March 19, 2014

Vanity Fair

A Family History

by Chris Rovzar. Illustrator James McMullan has designed more than 50 posters for Lincoln Center Theater, and his paintings for New York magazine became legendary under editor Clay Felker and design director Milton Glaser. (His artwork illuminated the story that inspired the movie Saturday Night Fever.) In his new book, Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood, McMullan looks back at his youth in China as the son of a wealthy European family. His grandparents had emigrated as missionaries, and ran an orphanage for abandoned infant girls. McMullan’s memories of China, and later Canada and India, plus the story of his troubled mother, make a compelling and intricate tale. 

See more illustrations and read the article at Vanity Fair

James and Lily McMullan, my paternal grandparents who, as missionaries, established an orphanage and an embroidery business in Cheefoo, China

March 12, 2014

James McMullan in the New York Times

A New York Artist’s Wartime Childhood

Lush violet shadows, a sense of the page as a deep box — a stage, really — in which a quiet drama unfolds in acute perspective: New Yorkers may recognize James McMullan’s signature watercolors from his posters for Lincoln Center Theater. (His saucy sailor girl, looking back over her shoulder to advertise a production of “Anything Goes” at the Vivian Beaumont, is a particularly well-known example.) New York Times readers may remember the illustrated 12-part series McMullan wrote on the artistic process for the Opinionator blog in 2010. And children and their art-loving parents will recall the many picture books he has illustrated, including the Times Best Illustrated winner “I Stink!” — written by his wife, Kate McMullan — a first-person account of the life of a garbage truck. “Know what I do at night while you’re asleep? Eat your trash, that’s what! See those bags? I smell breakfast!”

» Read the complete article at The New York Times

March 6, 2014

Blaine Blog for Books: Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast

A Conversation with James McMullan

By Julie (Jules) Danielson. James McMullan, who has led a long and distinguished career in graphic design and illustration, has written a new memoir. It’s a fascinating read, and today over at Kirkus I chat with him about this book.

It’s called Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood and was released this month from Algonquin. McMullan was born in North China, the grandson of UK missionaries who had settled there, and in this book he recounts his childhood in brief, impressionistic vignettes accompanied by paintings — first, his privileged life and then his father’s departure for the war, followed by his and his mother’s attempts to escape Japanese occupation.

It’s a book aimed at teens (given that it was published by Algonquin’s young-readers imprint), but as many reviewers have noted, adults would enjoy it as well.

Read the entire article online here.

March 6, 2014

Jame McMullan in the Atlantic

A Septuagenarian Artist's Childhood, in 55 Watercolors

After a career creating famous images for clients, James McMullan undertakes a project for himself.

By Steve Heller. Poster artist and children’s book author/illustrator James McMullan has created dozens of well-known Lincoln Center posters and editorial illustrations, including a series in New York Magazine that inspired the film “Saturday Night Fever. This month, his first illustrated memoir will be published. Leaving China: An Artists Paints His World War II Childhood (Algonquin Young Readers) chronicles McMullan’s peripatetic existence before and after escaping with his mother from Japanese-occupied Cheefoo, China. Beautifully illustrated in his signature watercolor style, McMullan has written an unsentimental and compelling story tracing the saga of his missionary grandparents, family business, parents’ relationship, and father’s anti-Japanese intelligence work in the British army—all leading to McMullan becoming an artist.

Read the entire article at the Atlantic.

February 2014

Review from Booklist Online

Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood.

By Michael Cart. The first nonfiction title in the still new Algonquin Young Readers imprint, this is a memoir of celebrated artist McMullan’s early years from age 2 to 11. His was a hopscotch early life thanks to WW II. Born in 1934 in Tsingtao, China, he subsequently lived in Shanghai, Canada, India, then China and Canada again and, finally, in the U.S. “My mother and I were now wanderers,” he writes, “not yet attached to any particular place.” His life was not always a happy story; his mother was a deep depressive who abused alcohol, and his strict British military officer father died in a plane wreck. Moreover, he had a self-described nervous, timid, introspective personality, but he found “much comfort in the intelligence of (his) visual surroundings” and, accordingly, his story is informed by a keen sense of place. The book consists of 54 chronologically arranged full-page illustrations, each accompanied by a facing page of text. The exquisite full-color pictures are filled with air and space, reminiscent of the Chinese scrolls that fascinated him as a child. These pictures and the evocative text are a happy exercise in harmony. A fascinating, seamless portrait of a young life and the wartime world that will have appeal not only to young readers but to adults as well.


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