Lohmann: Retired VCU professor creates artwork from popular songs as part of pandemic project | Richmond Local News

The day John Prine died, Robert Meganck thought he had lost a friend.

The heartbreak punch belies the fact that Meganck never met Prine, but he definitely felt like he knew him – or as much as anyone could know someone from seeing them in concert a few times and listening to their music forever.

A designer and illustrator who taught at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Art for 40 years, Meganck had what he called “John Prine Fridays” while still teaching, playing John Prine music on Fridays after -midday.

“The last songs you listen to on Friday are the songs you’re going to sing all weekend,” he explained. “Man, there’s no one I’d rather sing than John.”

So when Prine passed away in 2020, Meganck “felt a real kind of loss. It was like, what am I doing? It’s so sad.”

He called a few friends, talked about some Prine moments they shared. He phoned his sister: “Remember when we drove 100 miles to see John Prine in that cafe?”

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Like many of us, Meganck sought solace in Prine’s music, which was all over the airwaves, as were tributes and memories from other artists. Unlike many of us, Meganck had an idea for her own tribute: “I’m going to draw one of her songs.

Meganck, 74, a professor emeritus of illustration, graphic design, color theory and digital imagery, chose “Hello in There”, a moving song about loneliness and aging. He “draw” the song on his iPad with a digital pen, trying to put into visual form how he felt about the song.

This little diversion was not out of place for Meganck. Even when he was teaching, he painted every weekend “just to keep busy”, he recalls. The art is just what he made. All the time.

“As I used to tell my students, you don’t do this thing because some outside force tells you to do it, it’s because there is internal force telling you that you have to do it,” he said. “Doing it is what I’ve done most of my life.”

So he drew Prine’s song, shared it with family and friends for a positive response, and thought, “Well, that was kinda fun.”

The other thing was the timing of it all: Prine died of complications from COVID-19 in April 2020, when we were in the early weeks of the pandemic. Meganck, who retired in 2018, was just beginning a period of being “stuck at home”. His plans to illustrate children’s books had been disrupted, so the sudden burst of inspiration, though born out of sadness, was not unwelcome.

Later, he was working in the yard, listening to music, and a Leonard Cohen song came up.

“Oh,” thought Meganck, “I have an idea for this song.”

So he drew “Ballad of the Absent Mare”, shared it with his family and friends via social media, and thought that while he was at it, he should do The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who and…

“It continued,” said Meganck, who began sharing the illustrations publicly on her “Robert Meganck Illustration” Facebook page.

Every Wednesday, he posted his illustration of a new song, each of which included, in one form or another, the lyrics that inspired his work.

“It kind of helped me through” the start of the pandemic — and beyond, he said.

He created illustrations for four Prine songs – and songs by many other artists: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Arlo Guthrie, Santana, Adele, Brandi Carlile. He’s even taken a few requests and made a few for special occasions, like his 49th wedding anniversary to wife Candice in December 2021 when he drew an illustration for “The First Time I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack, which he said was “our song.”

He has created over 100 illustrations, and counting.

Someone asked if he was going to run out of songs at some point. He’s laughing. Not likely.

“I could do this the rest of my life and not finish John Prine,” he said, let alone all the other artists and music he loves.

His illustration “In the Pines” to a song performed by folk and blues singer Lead Belly has been recognized for excellence by American Illustration and is included in its annual collection of the best illustrations of the year. He was also recently informed that his “Black Dog”, inspired by the Led Zeppelin song, was among the winners of Communication Art Magazine’s 63rd Annual Illustration Contest.

You can see his “See What I Hear” illustration series on saatchiart.com. It sells limited-edition prints of each in two sizes: one roughly the size of vinyl LP albums, the other the size of 45 singles.

Meganck decided he would draw one every week “until something else happens or I get bored”.

“And I’m not sick of it,” he said.

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