Henri Matisse, the modern master whose colorful, game-changing art goes on view at the MIA on Sunday in Matisse: Masterworks from the Baltimore Museum of Art, is no longer taking commissions. Luckily for the MIA, Shawn McCann is close at hand. By day, he works in facilities maintenance at the museum, clearing snow, fixing leaks, making sure the lights stay on. By night, he takes up a brush himself. Commissions have taken him around the world, and now his work has put him right in the gallery with Matisse.
For this show, he created a photobooth (seen above at left) drawn from Matisse’s 1937 masterpiece Purple Robe and Anemones (at right)—with the purple robe, and the woman inside it, removed. Pose behind the flowers, painted on a separate board, to put yourself in the picture.
He also created a backdrop for the gift shop at the end of the exhibition, a kind of Where’s Waldo of memorable Matisse imagery, from Blue Nude to his beloved patterns. It’s actually on the same panel where McCann painted a backdrop for the museum’s recent show of China’s terracotta warriors. He created a “boom boom room” at the MIA—with black-light paint—for a dance party celebrating the 2012 Rembrandt in America show and the pop-up park that turned the lobby into a tropical paradise, or so it seemed, a couple winters ago.
“It’s like having two full-time jobs,” McCann says. Sometimes three. During the brief February thaw, McCann was called in at 11:30 p.m. to address a leaky ceiling, and didn’t leave until 3:30 a.m. He was back later to clear snow. And he generally doesn’t work on his art at the MIA until after-hours.
The Matisse works are in the trompe l’oeil style that McCann has mastered. His sidewalk chalk drawings are alarmingly misleading, illusions so inspired that he has a New York agent who has landed him commissions in India, Germany, and other places seeking to bemuse and befuddle. And then there are his illustrations. He trained as an illustrator at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and now he’s helped create 20 children’s books with another five on the way. “Matisse changed techniques several times in his career,” McCann notes, “and that’s a good lesson: don’t get stuck in a rut.”