Machine mind: visiting the mechanical imaginations of Larry McFall

American illustrator Larry McFall explores his inimitable and intricately penciled mechanical constructs.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Dec 11, 2021

The artist Larry McFall, or as he is better known, Lobster X, has a truly inimitable sketching practice. His work comes together as the dense, mechanical innards of a machine tend to; rich and heavy with all the complexity of an old car engine. McFall’s pieces are constructed seemingly entirely through pencil, and a cursory glance through his oeuvre will be enough to divulge a great deal regarding the discipline and control he has developed. Discussing his practice, he tells STIR, “I have always drawn, doodled, sketched and painted - from sketchbooks in college to doodles on business meeting notes. I have developed a very unique style of doodling that I have only seen in maybe a handful of other people. People often ask what my style is called, and honestly, I am not sure that it has a name or classification in art yet. Some seem to think it is steampunk-influenced, others make up names based on other works, but nothing has really stuck yet.” The artist references ‘steampunk’ aesthetics here, which are built through a preoccupation with the systems and technologies that dominated industry and transportation in days of old. Steampunk art is all brass pipes and complex metal configurations; rods and dials peering out at the viewer through a mesh of machinery. And indeed, while this is no doubt an appropriate approximation to make when trying to group McFall’s practice, it is hardly the complete picture, as his work certainly speaks far more to the mechanical systems of today than the late 1800s.

‘Sips’, which makes one imagine the stories that find themselves in McFall’s creative process  | Larry McFall | STIRworld
Sips, which makes one imagine the stories that find themselves in McFall’s creative process Image: Larry McFall

The artist further adds, “Many of the things I have loved to draw on study are truly intricate and mechanical in nature. The more complex the better. Celtic knots, printing press mechanisms, construction vehicles, the guts of old muscle cars, grandfather clocks, etc.” He continues, explaining that he has done so many tedious, long-term projects in his life, he is no longer scared to sit down and really work on tiny, little details that could be too difficult for other artists to sustain in their practice. He sees his work as something that is engineered instead of drawn, as though the entities in his imagery are meant to come together in order to create something bigger. McFall says, “What I do is not just a steampunk dog or cat, but found or random objects that are arranged in such a way as to create the image of a dog or cat. Within each image are a few ‘Easter eggs’, that help narrate the story of the image. Most people won't even see all the detail I have planted, but it helps me in creating each piece.”

‘Nevermore’, a piece that references the great Edgar Allen Poe  | Larry McFall | STIRworld
Nevermore, a piece that references the great Edgar Allen Poe Image: Larry McFall

As the artist explains that his current practice began in earnest during the COVID-19 pandemic, which he feels created an alternate reality in his life, forcing him to change the patterns he had built over a lifetime. He began to take nature walks, whereupon he would closely examine root and rock formations, and also committed himself to utilising the attention to detail he possesses in order to create his growing body of work. McFall explains, “I use the connections between random pieces of ‘junk’ to form a portrait, and within the portrait, reference events of the subject’s life. This has been my therapy for the past year; an attempt to be positive, creating order out of chaos, beauty out of discarded items, through a difficult time in history.” The artist’s rationale for his practice is truly heart-warming, and certainly a sentiment that will resonate with many creatives. On matters material, McFall’s palette of instruments may be small, but it is certainly not random. He has culled a very specific selection of paper and pencils over the course of his experiments, through which he undertakes a painstaking sketching process that involves him starting from the top left corner of his sheet and working his way right and down. It takes him over 35 hours on average to complete the preliminary sketch and shading, after which he will usually spend another 10 hours to go over everything with a graphite pencil; darkening and deepening his lines wherever he needs to. He is currently investigating advancing his craft through the use of black watercolour, in order to further distinguish the backgrounds and recesses within his pieces.

‘Kraken’, one of the artist’s animal series | Larry McFall | STIRworld
Kraken, one of the artist’s animal series Image: Larry McFall

One issue members of McFall’s audience may take with his work is that many of his pieces are rather static, in a sense. However, there is an important distinction to touch upon here, which is that the movement within McFall’s art occurs within his framings: It is when one observes the composite elements that make up the artist’s constructs, that they begin to make out motions and patterns that are not immediately apparent when viewing one of his pieces in it’s whole.

‘Xenomorph’ by the artist takes after H.R Geiger | Larry McFall | STIRworld
Xenomorph by the artist takes after HR Geiger Image: Larry McFall

As of now, McFall has a permanent exhibit of pieces that rotate at a wine bar run by his cousin. Apart from that, he has been approached by various tavern owners to put up some of his work. He was even the featured artist in a ‘monochrome’ exhibition. Discussing his future plans, the artist tells STIR, “I would really like to work with a band on a serious album cover, or perhaps a concert poster. My work really lends itself to something someone can hold in their hand or look at on their wall for hours. And I really love music, even though I am not a musician. I am pushing to find more galleries, but want to get out of North Carolina, and move into places that appreciate my style of art; New York, Canada, Germany, etc.” However, as McFall points out, this is no easy task as his connections with big gallery owners are as yet few and far between. One may only hope that the artist acquires the gallery access he wants, and is able to exhibit his work at an international podium. It is certainly a rich and highly unique body of practice, and one deserving of great recognition. In the meantime, Larry McFall’s art will live, breathe and hum with an energy wholly its own, on the internet.

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