In the fall of 2015, I screened Curious Worlds David Beck at the Halsey Institute in Charleston, SC. Mark Sloan, the curator of the museum, told me he had an idea for my next film project. I was intrigued as he described an artist named Richard McMahan whose work Sloan exhibited at the Halsey in 2008. Mark described McMahan as an outsider artist with a remarkable life mission: creating miniature copies of humankind’s greatest artworks. Sloan also mentioned that he believed Richard was a savant—imagine Dustin Hoffman’s character in “Rain Man” but with art instead of math. I was intrigued by Mark’s description and called Richard almost immediately. After some discussion and Richard’s agreement, Simone Keith and I started filming last February. The result is "The Original Richard McMahan," a 20-minute short film that serves as an introduction to Richard and his extraordinary artistic spirit and mission.
After meeting Richard in person, I saw how unusual he was: not only does he create his artwork under the most meager circumstances in a cramped family home, but he has no computer, phone, or car. All of his extensive research is done at the library and in local bookstores. To make money and support his artistic pursuits, he works at flea markets and has received grants from the Community Foundation of NE Florida. Interestingly, Richard also has a passion for costumes—he makes them and wears them to art openings and public events. His prodigious memory and ability to recall an astonishing amount of art history, another hallmark of savant syndrome, is impressive by any standard. However, when we discussed whether he had ever received an official diagnosis as a savant, he told me that he had never been diagnosed. As a result, I decided to drop this part of the story line and pursue instead Richard’s amazing endeavor. His project is truly audacious, to assemble his works into a “mini museum” that documents the development of art across human history—from the pre-historical Lascaux cave paintings, to an Egyptian Pharaoh’s tomb, to a 1970’s Ralph Goings painting and everything in between.
Richard exhaustively researches and considers each item before recreating it. In essence, this process amounts to a kind of curation – his mini-museum isn’t just a collection of miniature artistic recreations, it is itself an original work reflecting a unique vision. And although he lacks substantial artistic training and is often described as an “outsider” artist, his curatorial decisions are based on an impressive knowledge of art history. Richard can tell you not just about the art itself, but also about the life of the artist, their relationships, and their influences. This knowledge arises out of a passion that is visceral. There is nothing aloof or academic about Richard’s relationship to the art he studies. As you get to know him, what becomes obvious is that he relates to these artists intimately, his passion for their work arises out of the fact that they and their expressions mean something to him that is immediate and personal.
Richard calls his art collection “the greenest art collection in the world” because it’s made from recycled materials that he finds around his home in Jacksonville, FL. McMahan attended an arts-based high school in Jacksonville, where he began his “mini museum” project 27 years ago. The range of artistic media is impressive, including sculpture, painting, furniture and ceramics. To date, there are over 1,100 works in the mini-museum and it continues to grow. One of Richard’s goals is to find a permanent home for his “mini museum” and to use it to teach people about the artists and objects that make up our shared human history.
I am excited to announce that the film will have its festival premiere at the Tally Shorts Film Festival, in Tallahassee, FL, on January 20th, where it has been programmed for the opening night slot and is in competition. Simultaneously, The Original Richard McMahan has been launched online on VHX . Since it is a short film, we decided to offer the film with a “Pay-What-You-Want” formula, starting at $1. Producing documentaries at a professional level takes time and money -- even a short film like this one can be surprisingly costly. On that note, a deep thank you to you for whatever support you are willing to provide.