Colorado Creatives

100 Colorado Creatives 4.0: Lucas T. McMahon

Courtesy of Lucas T. McMahon
Lucas T. McMahon, self-portrait of the artist in the back yard of his home in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood.
#84: Lucas T. McMahon

Denver native and artist Lucas T. McMahon has noteworthy skills as a collagist, sculptor and painter, but he’s not comfortable with being put in a groove, not when there are so many other avenues to explore. Dig into what it’s like to be a young artist who’s still asking questions: McMahon tells all for the 100CC questionnaire.

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Lucas T. McMahon, "How Could We,” mixed-media work from 2016's High on Fire Burnin' Down the House, at Pirate Contemporary Art.
Courtesy of Lucas T. McMahon
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?

Lucas T. McMahon: My aspirations, inspirations and motivations for work in the studio are always changing. I'd have to say that if there is one overarching affect that pushes me to create work, it is encapsulated in a statement I heard at a lecture from contemporary British philosopher Simon Critchley. He may even have been quoting someone else, but he said that many of us have become artists to make things we don't see present in the world around us, but then we often realize at some point that we are instead more interested in creating the world we don't see present in the things around us. An ironic statement, yes, as many in the 2000s are. But it's really this idea, though, very much in the revolutionary sense of another world being possible, that compels me to create.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?

I'm sure there are tons of historic figures from all over the globe that I would do well to party with, but at risk of making myself sound like a hypocrite in the next question, I just wanna kick it with the local crew. Having grown up here, I am very interested in the regional voice of contemporary art in the Southwest. That is, is there something that Denver, in the beginning of the 21st century, has to say that is unique from, say, either coast, voices across the world or from other periods in history? Plus, right now in my life, I have a limited range of mobility and sphere of influence, so I am just really interested to work with others and see what we can come up with right here.

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Lucas T. McMahon, "Goin' to the Chapel,” collage.
Courtesy of Lucas T. McMahon
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?

We have a very tight-knit community here in Denver. It is easy to meet, get to know and become a part of our local arts community. Denver has, it seems, always been very good about taking care of its own. What I see being one of the best parts of our community is also one of its weakest attributes: This same feature also tends to make Denver a little insular or even incestuous. I see a lot of the same people doing the same things with the same people from before who are also doing a lot of the same things they did last time. Denver is a really big place, and there are a ton of undiscovered artists and creatives out here, ones with great ideas who are ready to make their next step, and all they need is to be given that opportunity. As we continue to grow, I am seeing more and more new faces emerge, and I do think that it's a good thing for all of us.

How about globally?

I'm not an expert on the global scene, so it's hard for me to make a well-founded assessment, but it looks like the names we keep championing, or that continue to be championed, are already well-established and popular. A lot of this work on higher levels with a wider acclaim tends to be a bit tame for my personal tastes. In order to make work that is digestible to a mass audience, I think it has to be homogenized first to remove any rough edges or elements that some might find to be unsettling or unsavory. I think that a more diverse selection of voices is more challenging and therefore more rewarding.

Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?

I'm sure there is some saying about following trends and you will forever be behind the times. I think that most of us inevitably fall into some sort of fashion or another. But maybe it's just easier to talk about some things if we have a frame of context for them, especially in art. I try not to pay too much attention, though. It just seems like an easy way to miss things because you weren't looking for them, or looking too intently and missing the point altogether. There are certainly things I care for less than others, but I don't like to restrict what I can conceive of as a worthwhile means of expression. That's too limiting, and I find that thinking too deeply on how one's own work does or doesn't fit in to the creative landscape can be stifling. I hope that no matter what people create or how they do so, they are doing so to share authentic ideas they are truly passionate about and not to achieve wealth, status or influence. If I have to choose, I'd say I'm simultaneously a fan of de-skilling and works that take extremely high levels of craftsmanship.

You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?

Gosh, that ain't sayin' much. I guess, what isn't, ya know? I would really love to travel. I've done so little of it that I'm not even sure where I'd begin once I have the opportunity. This is a vague answer, but I’d like to meet more people, see more of the world and have experiences that I can't have by just staying here in Denver.

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Lucas T. McMahon, installation shot from 2017 solo show Divides, at Pirate Contemporary Art.
Courtesy of Lucas T. McMahon
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?

I just received in the mail a copy of a photo zine I was invited to contribute to a couple of years ago: Ventriloquist Magazine, Issue No. 3, published by California-based artist Whitney Lynn. It is a splendid collection of photos. The quality of the publication is truly superior. It was the first time that I was curated for a project, instead of one of my works. What's most significant about it for me, though, is that only a few states away, probably only a couple hundred or so people intimately considered those photographs, just one of which happened to be mine. I've been fortunate to have had a lot of great opportunities so far because of my art, but I'm still just riding the high from that one.

Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?

Denver is my home. I don't really know anywhere else. My hope is to be able to stay here. The only thing that might ever have me considering otherwise is my ability to do so. 

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

There are so many, which makes this a difficult question to answer. I think that Adán de la Garza and his current project, Collective Misnomer, are crucial for Denver's art scene. He is one of few bringing very finely selected, high-quality video screenings to Colorado. The artists and work he shows are always diverse and challenging. His curation is really apt, poignant and truly needed in our current world, let alone just Denver. If you haven't been to a screening, I highly recommend looking out for the next.

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Lucas T. McMahon, "Headstone" a cast-cement sculpture in the form of a stretcher bar, 2013.
Courtesy of Lucas T. McMahon
What's on your agenda in the coming year?

The most concrete plans I ever have with my art are to continue making work and being very critical and honest with myself about it. This can mean deciding what something new I may want to do next, deciding what needs to progress or turn a corner, or even when it is time to move on from an idea. I don't have a schedule or agenda for those steps, so they tend to happen organically. More than likely this year, I will give up a few things I've had success with and attempt to come up with something new or even revive some old ideas that I'm now in a better position to grapple with. Currently I am finishing a body of work that I'm still thinking on a venue for, so hopefully that will be forthcoming in the next year, as well.

Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?

By naming the individuals I am, I wish in no way to convey that I think these artists are unnoticed or to downplay any of their efforts or the strong contributions either of them have already made within the local community thus far. I mean that based on the contributions I have seen, I really enjoy their work and seeing these guys going places. Victoriano "Leo" Rivera is muralist and painter currently making some really rad work having to do with ideas of labor versus leisure, reality and consciousness. It's some heady stuff, but he's doing it in a manner that is light and playful. Another artist who I think is making some really interesting work is Samuel Mata. His collages are very visceral and cacophonous, like a bunch of sculptures strewn into piles of rubble. He's been making a lot of things recently, and I always like what I see.

Learn more about Lucas T. McMahon and his work online or visit his Instagram.