Urbana based artist Sophie McMahan explores the “softer side of creepy”


Urbana, Ill. (WCIA).

Urbana based artist, Sophie McMahan, isn’t afraid to take a retro fantasy and make it grotesque. From B-movie prints to shrinky dink earrings, McMahan says she’s committed to exploring the softer side of creepy.

“I really love horror movies and vintage monsters,” says McMahan. “I like to mesh together all of the things I love.”

Online, McMahan is known by her business name, Dreaming of Johnny. Her instagram alone has built up an audience of over 20 thousand followers and she’s made roughly seven thousand sales on Etsy.

One glance at her feed and you’ll find a bright mix of the 60’s inspired goodies she’s created and fans of B-movies, comics, and hair and beauty are easily lost in her vintage dream world.

But underneath the pop and color of her Americana designs, McMahan says there’s a darkness:

“As much as I love a lot of these kind of idealized photographs and advertisements from the 50s, 60s and 70s. I sort of know what real life is like and it’s never as perfect or beautiful as it appears.”

McMahan’s work explores a duality many of us know– the feeling of being attracted to and repulsed by something all at once. Her art begs the question, is this a retro fantasy or a slimy nightmare?

“I’ve struggled a lot with image and all kinds of stuff. So it’s like even though I admire these women and this look and the hair and the makeup and the colors…I also kind of hate it at the same time. Because I hate what it stands for, but I’m still so drawn to it.”

Of all the art McMahan produces and consumes, alternative comics hold a special place in her heart. In fact, when she first discovered works like Ghost World by Daniel Clowes, she knew she was up for a new challenge.

“When I saw the comic and his other sort of comic work, it completely flipped my life around and changed my life,” McMahan says. “And I was like oh my god, I have to do this.”

So she did. A compilation of comics from her series You Were Swell just sold out online and now McMahan has her sights set on her upcoming comic, The Venus Pill.

“It’s so gratifying having people positively react to my work. It makes me feel so good and I’m glad I can make somebody laugh or think a little bit,” says McMahan. “I’ve been able to make some really good friends through it.”

Well… friends and lovers that is.

Sophie McMahan with her fiancé Justin Berkley

Kentucky native Justin Berkley went from fan to fiancé when he discovered McMahan’s work online. Soon after, the two started chatting when Berkley placed an order on McMahan’s Etsy shop.

“He added me on Facebook and we would talk a little bit here and there, but then we started to message more and more. Now, three and half years later he’s living here and we are engaged,” McMahan says. “But yeah, our paths would have never crossed if he hadn’t seen my work.”

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