Monsters get a bad rap all the time, but a lot of them are really just misunderstood. And that’s on us. But thanks to artist/teacher Christopher McMahon — who paints forlorn and fuzzy monsters into discarded Bob Ross-esque landscapes picked up at secondhand stores and the like — perhaps a little more monster empathy can be mustered by all who gaze upon his work.
“They’re only scary because they’re huge and don’t fit into a society filled with tiny humans,” McMahon tells SYFY WIRE about his monsters. “Godzilla doesn’t want any trouble, but he can’t help the fact that he doesn’t live the way people do. He doesn’t speak their language.”
Fortunately, legendary rock band Weezer speaks McMahon’s language, so much so that they picked his painting “The Mountain Monster” to grace the cover of their 2014 album Everything Will Be Alright in the End. Which is kind of a crazy story, but basically boils down to a huge Reddit win.
“After I made the first set of three paintings, ‘The Lake Serpent,’ ‘The Swamp Monster,’ and ‘The Mountain Monster’ (my original intent was to title them based on where they were located, but I quickly realized that wasn’t going to work if I was going to make more), I posted them to Reddit. I think my Reddit account was like a few weeks old at the time,” McMahon says. “Later that day, one of my friends excitedly called me to tell me I’d been upvoted to the front page. I didn’t realize how rare and significant that was at the time, but those three paintings started circulating the internet on various web sites.”
One of those sites caught the eye of Weezer’s lead vocalist and songwriter, Rivers Cuomo, and eventually, “The Mountain Monster" found his forever home.
“During the recording of the album that would become 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End, Rivers was searching for a cover art concept that would personify the deep feelings that were going into the album, and the emotional story that was developing,” Karl Koch, Weezer’s 5th Member/Fan Liaison, tells SYFY WIRE via email. “When he stumbled across artist Chris McMahon’s ‘The Monster,’ which was in an online gallery, he felt an immediate pull. The Monster was both on a terrifying rampage, and yet the painting was peaceful and dreamlike. And most importantly to Rivers, it was clear the monster wasn’t angry — it was upset, sad, searching for something it was missing. Which paralleled the dual tales of The Scientist and The Artist being woven into the album’s developing songs.”
While McMahon usually finds it challenging getting his creatures to blend in and interact with the existing environment of the original painting, he didn’t find that with "The Mountain Monster."
“This particular one wasn’t as difficult to execute as some have been,” McMahon says. “There was a tree in the way that I had to work around, and I wanted his feet to disappear in the mist (which has caused much speculation as to what his feet look like). But with that one, as soon as I had finished his face with its mouth full of awkward teeth and derpy eyes, he became my favorite. I wonder what I looked like at the time because I usually involuntarily make the same facial expressions I’m trying to paint.”
The immediate success gave McMahon plenty of impetus to stick with the motif. To set such sympathetic scenes, McMahon fills the voids of each secondhand painting with just the right monster. (If you’ve got a spare landscape cluttering up the garage, you can commission your own via his Voluntary Involuntary Collaboration Program.) So painting monsters comes secondary to finding just the right landscape painting. But that actually started as an exercise in just sourcing cheap used canvases which he could then paint over wholesale. Soon enough though, monsters began occupying those lands.
“One day, at a yard sale, I found a painting of some water and trees — usual Bob Ross stuff — but it wasn’t bad. It just looked empty, with a large open area of lake/swamp water directly in the center,” McMahon says. “Maybe at the time I was feeling a bit guilty for straight-up destroying other works of art (even though they were generally being thrown away) to create my own. So instead of starting from scratch, I added a sea serpent coming out of the water and called it good. After that, I began looking for discarded empty landscapes to put monsters in, and just kept rolling with it.”
Though he’s created quite a body of monstrous work now, McMahon says he’s never encountered any of the aspiring Bob-Ross-es.
“I have never encountered any of the original painters of anything I’ve done, but I hope they’d be happy to see that the art they’d made got a new lease on life after being thrown away,” McMahon says. “I make sure that when I get a landscape, it’s undeniably destined for oblivion. I don’t buy art that’s more than like $10, and never from the original artist or from anywhere that’s working on commission. I like to think I’m buying permanent homes for the weird things that live in my head. I’m eternally grateful to all the people out there who tried to be Bob Ross, realized it wasn’t for them, and dropped off their first attempts at Goodwill.”
That Cuomo felt such monstrous empathy to the weird things in McMahon’s art was no accident. Indeed, monster empathy was instilled in the painter early on.
“I was raised on monster movies — my dad was drawn to old school giant monsters from Toho movies like Godzilla, as well as old comics like Tales to Astonish. He was a great guy, maybe a little awkward and out of place — an artist and a musician to the core — and I think he felt a certain connection to giant monsters in a way,” McMahon says.
Though McMahon lost his father around the time the Weezer cover came out, that connection remains strong, so much so that the album title speaks to him from across the expanse.
“[N]ow I can look at my wall and see that album, with a big, awkward monster inspired by a dad who loved me, with the words ‘Everything Will Be Alright in the End.’ It’s a comforting reminder, and a mantra that’s stuck with me to this day,” McMahon says.
Check out plenty more of McMahon's derpy-eyed beauties at cwmcmahon.com