My first two jobs were in Esquire magazine, one illustrating a dark Russian story and the other a reflection on discovering the stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. This connection to the dark and the deep has continued in most of the fiction or the articles I am commissioned to illustrate, a lucky circumstance since I am hopeless at putting on a happy or glamorous face in my art. Early on I had a short stint doing drawing for women’s shoes but my client wisely decided that appealing to a small group of depressed buyers was not enough of a market and fired me. My paintings of a Brooklyn Disco, along with the accompanying article by Nik Cohn became the inspiration for the movie Saturday Night Fever, and even there, my art expressed more of the alienation that I felt in the young people at the club rather than the fun they were supposedly having.

I am attracted to the energy and drama of people dealing with difficult situations and the graphic invention that drawing these predicaments inspires in me. Sometimes what I decide on is a simple evocation of a mood, like the boy looking down 45th St. at the theater marquees or the “portrait “ of the typewriter representing the complexity of the poems of A.R. Ammous, and sometimes my response is to paint something complicated, like the multiple blood-drenched rectangles illustrating the simultaneous murders ordered by a mafia boss.
One of my favorite assignments was illustrating Joan Didion’s article, “The White Album,” for New West Magazine in which she wrote in small patches about the louche lives of characters like Jim Morrison and other more anonymous L.A. hustlers. In my own fragmentary scenes I tried to match Didion’s dispassionate tone and her talent for suggesting a significance that was just beyond the sum of the actions that she witnessed. Joan Didion’s writing seemed particularly simpatico for me and I always hoped we would collaborate on something more. We talked about it but life moved on.

2023 © James McMullan