Q+Art: Maximilian Paints Shocking Allegories That Shine Light on Power Structures
Disclaimer: Images featured in this article are sexual and explicit in nature.
Paris-based artist Maximilian is no stranger to prickly subjects. Despite his conventional art school background, the Italian painter’s work is anything but your run-of-the-mill gallery offering. Expect to see ruthless dictators naked from the waist down, child abuse, and a sprinkling of racism, misogyny, and transgender discrimination for good measure.
Maximilian lets his intuition dictate the subject matter—fittingly, his work expresses the unspoken power structures that shape our current social climate. “Much of [the work is] channeled directly from my subconscious, with little in the way of filters,” he writes in his artist statement. Using symbols, Maximilian transforms our most toxic social issues into violent allegories that warn against the corrupting influence of power.
Works like “La Règle du Rebelle” (English translation: “The Rule of the Rebel”) bring physical pain to emotional agonies and indignities. Here, tomato-red welts against naked flesh make misogyny a visceral experience. “[‘La Règle du Rebelle’] symbolically represents the violence and abuses suffered by women,” Maximilian tells NOT REAL ART. “The work mainly highlights the exploitation of women in daily life.”
In other works, Maximilian explores the power imbalance at the heart of racism and transgender discrimination. “[‘Le Majordome Obligeant’] deals with various delicate subjects: transgender rights—represented by the figure of a child in feminine clothes—racist slavery, and other forms of abuse,” he explains. Sometimes, the power struggle manifests internally, like in "La Fin de l'Enfance" (“The End of Childhood”). The painting shows the conflict between childhood, when sexuality and gender are undefined, and adulthood, when our identities become more fully formed. “My characters are androgynous precisely because I want to represent that sexual duality,” Maximilian tells us.
With his purposely provocative images, the artist exposes our indifference to the cruelties of the world. His work—whether political, racial, or sexual allegory—suggests that the most shocking scenes happen right in front of our eyes, and not on the gallery wall.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Maximilian discusses the grandeur of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, creating opportunities for yourself in the art world, and the joys of painting in silence.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Maximilian: I don't know in general the books that artists keep in their library. I can, of course, only say about myself. I love to read and look at the biographies of great artists of the past, such as Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci. They are therefore the biographies that I keep in my artist library. But these readings are a hobby for me and are not related to my making art. For me, painting is an inner need that doesn't need inspiration from reading a book.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
M: I would gladly have dinner with Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Leonardo da Vinci.
What are you trying to express with your art?
M: With my art I express the inexpressible (even by myself).
What person has most influenced your work?
M: When I was a boy, I was very inspired by great artists of the past: The grandeur of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, the metaphysical painting of Leonardo, and the very carnal one of Caravaggio. But there are many others. However, as I have already said, my making art is not inspired by anything or anyone in particular, as it is a personal and emotional language linked to my current life in my social, geographical, and temporal context.
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
M: For me a formal art education, be it free or paid, cannot be worth the money paid because it does not create artists but only craftsmen of art. A true artist is born an artist, he does not become one thanks to an artistic education. And one of the reasons why this is a truth for me is that a true artist must be ready to challenge and deny even the artistic education that a society (or family) has imposed on him.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
M: I don't know…Maybe the art world should offer more possibilities to unknown and emerging artists. But it is also true that the artist himself must be able to create opportunities for himself through personal research without waiting for the world of art to change to favor it.
Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?
M: Why not both? Great, historically significant artists also had great commercial success and became very rich: Michelangelo, Rubens, or Picasso, to name only the most famous. The real limit of the artist is to believe in poverty and not in the wealth that his art can guarantee him.
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
M: Silence. I don't paint listening to music but only my thoughts.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
M: The pandemic did not affect my art making. The only drawback was, for a certain period, not being able to buy the painting material due to the forced closure of the art shops.
How do you think the coronavirus pandemic will impact the art world in the long term?
M: Surely the pandemic has accelerated the digitization process of contemporary society, and therefore also of the art world. I think that physical art galleries will no longer exist in the future because they will be replaced by virtual galleries. This phenomenon already exists, it is a reality today and I myself have participated in online art exhibitions and have had my artworks published in online magazines.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
M: My latest artworks have racism as the theme and right now. I'm doing another painting on the same theme.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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