Katherine McMahon Paints for Coronavirus Relief

Katherine McMahon in studio, Photo: Courtesy Katherine McMahon

“I wanted to help in some kind of way.”

That’s a sentiment many are feeling right now. With the world around us closed off to visitors and many stuck in isolation, many of those not touched directly by the Coronavirus are wondering what they can do to help. Katherine McMahon, Director of Programming at the Elaine De Kooning House in East Hampton, has felt the urge to give back in this trying time and found an enriching and creative way to help people that are experiencing hardships due to the unprecedented situation. A talented artist, McMahon is creating portraits for people that donate to the Service Worker’s Coalition.

Portrait by Katherine McMahon


“I worked in the restaurant industry throughout my 20s, and it helped sustain me in college,” McMahon, an FIT alum, says. “I met so many great people in that industry—some of the most hardworking people I’ve encountered. The fact that these people are often working paycheck to paycheck and can’t financially handle something like this…I think we’re all kind of waiting to see how this shapes up. [So I thought] there was something I could do to raise some money for them and in a way that people could donate any way they could manage. I thought this would be a perfect way to help.”

Portrait by Katherine McMahon

The Service Worker’s Coalition is a Brooklyn-based grassroots organization that sprung up in response to the pandemic affecting the restaurant industry. McMahon’s personal experience as a waitress and hostess made contributing to the cause an easy call. “I worked in Brooklyn for a long time,” she says. “It taught me a lot about people and work ethic. It was a formative experience for me. As someone who likes to paint people, you learn a lot from the vast amount of people you meet. It helped me tremendously financially, through college and afterward.”

Portrait by Katherine McMahon

McMahon specializes in stylized portraiture. “Some have described it as photorealistic but a little more gestural,” she explains. She will mail portraits to people that donate or drop them off to people who live locally. McMahon is also working on a series about the American diner, so the restaurant industry was on her mind. “It’s inspired, a little, by the movie Diner,” she says. “I wanted to explore it from an aesthetic standpoint and a nostalgic standpoint. Then Coronavirus happened and I thought I could tie into this project for restaurant workers…It’s exciting to feel like I’m giving someone a portrait that they could cherish in some way.”

Portrait by Katherine McMahon

Katherine McMahon will create a portrait for you in exchange for a donation to the Service Worker’s Coalition. Send her a message on Instagram @katherinemcmahon_ for more information. Donate to the Service Worker’s Coalition on Venmo @bkservicecoalition.

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