max tothCH.89: If you were to categorize or describe the style of your artwork, what would it be and why?

MT: I make figurative narrative work about the coming of age rights of young men. More often than not the vehicle for these narratives are large scale oil paintings.

CH.89: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

MT: Most of the initial work started from my own stories from growing up.

CH.89: Can you talk a little bit about what your creative thought process is like when starting a new project/ piece of artwork?

MT: I approach a piece from two different directions, and I keep a lot of lists. I have a running list of images/aesthetic concepts that I think would be engaging if they were to find the right vehicle. Then I have lists of things I would like to tackle story wise. When an item from one list seems to find a mate in the second list then it becomes the germ of a piece that may be realized. To be honest, this then becomes a third list. This all sounds a bit maniacal written down. Before smart phones, I would keep this third list in a book or moleskin type thing or even on a folded piece of paper that would travel with me from a pair of jeans to another pair of jeans or get tucked into a backpack. I’d lose it, have to recreate the list, and those ideas that had set root and could remember, would be written down again and the others would be lost. That’s how I would cull the list. Now I keep things in my phone and thanks to the cloud they’re everywhere, but its still essentially the same. After a bit, a few ideas continue to interest me and those eventually become realized objects.

CH.89: Is there anything in particular that you would want people to take from your artwork?

MT: Over the years I have found that it is a difficult thing to expect any particular response from an audience. Each person is going to bring to the work a unique set of references and experiences. To me, I see my work as documenting an investigation of a time and culture which is waning. Amongst a digitally dominant youth it seems less common that a childhood is spent getting lost in the woods alone or with friends. The new generation, like those before it, will bring something incredible and new to the table. But for me, the woods and physicality of games, battles, both real and imagined, and girls were how we measured ourselves against one another. We took the games they taught us on the playground and in gym classes which were, I think, intended to build team work and impose rules and obedience and we bent them and amped them up. We dared each other to do what we were too afraid to and we piggy backed each others bravery. That’s quite long winded, but I guess the energy in the work is something I think translates. To me the aggression that exists within the work is that of a tribal bond and the rituals that create and strengthen that bond. So my take always I hope for are excitement, exhilaration for everyone and identification for those who can relate.

CH.89: Can you talk a little bit about your lifestyle as an artist and what that is like?

MT: Being an artist feels like you’ve been given the page from the coloring book that has no lines, its blank. You can make of the page whatever you want, color wherever you want, set your boundaries wherever you want. And that freedom is incredible. It also requires a drive. You can never work hard enough, you never know enough. Nothing you make is ever perfect. Everything can be improved, the project in its entirety can be better and so you constantly are working from a fresh piece of paper. I find inspirations in everything from the traditional movies, books and poetry to great meals and time with family and friends. I’m lucky that I have been able to create a practice that plays to things that I love to do. I get to spend time with my close friends and talk through subject matters that they are well acquainted with. I can mine their memory and see how they look back upon certain moments to help widen my own view. But your lifestyle is what you want it to be. Nearly everything I do I see as feeding the work. I live outside of new york city so that I can have bigger studio space, be near woods and wildlife and afford to spend all the time I want in there. But I’m still near NYC so I can be present as often as possible. Like any job, being there is a large part of the battle. But I get to blow shit up, light off fireworks and engage in all sorts of mischief in the name of my art. I have a great time doing what I do.

CH.89: When starting out an artistic task, do you think it is better to have a particular direction/set plan guiding your way? Or, is it better to act on impulse and go from there?

MT: I don’t think that one is BETTER than the other. I always start with direction. But that’s how my mind works. Its one of the great misconceptions out there that better or worse exists, in most cases it really is the good for me and my way of thinking and existing or not. But just because I start out with a very specific goal in mind doesn’t mean that for someone else that is an entirely unhealthy or unhelpful way of working. And, just because I start out with a direction doesn’t mean that I am simply executing that idea from start to end. The process is wonderful because you learn along the way, you allow for the material or even the subject to dictate some of its own terms. Maybe one part of your plan isn’t working but you see this other opportunity that may get you to a next step. You take it and then respond to that, creating is a conversation with the piece not a monologue.

CH.89: What is one major lesson you’ve learned as an artist thus far?

MT: Neither you nor the work should ever sit still. You can always do more and do better and that is exciting and inspiring, not daunting. And as an amendment to that, don’t let your work lapse into a single medium manifestation. Other mediums will bring up other narratives within your work that will make your vision more complete. Attack it from as many sides as you can, as thoroughly as you can. Stick and move, stick and move like biggie said and many boxers before him.

CH.89: Do you regard personal style & taste to be of highest importance?

MT: No. It dictates a lot of our own decisions, but its completely subjective. I think the ability to see beyond ones own taste and understand other projects and ways of working and seeing are more important. Its not something that I am particularly great at, but its something I’m working on. And its something I’ve seen some great artists do. I think being able to step outside of your aesthetic will strengthen your own.

CH.89: What do you consider to be the hardest thing about being an artist?

MT: I’m not sure I have an answer for this. I know those things that could be seen as difficult but I enjoy them and find them motivating. There’s the self motivation to both simply make without someone telling you what to do and then to constantly improve whatever it is that you are making and your practice. But you’re naturally going to want to make better work! Motivating is no different than what any other person has to do whether its the gym or their job. Though if someone else could tell me how to get my ass to the gym it’d be grateful. There is so much that has been made and there are so many voices out there currently making and how do you stand out among them? Hopefully that same work you’re putting in is thorough enough that your voice becomes one that only you can make. Ok! Never mind, I just wrote my answer to the next question which made me think of a better answer than the above. The hardest part for me are those days when the body and mind are out of sync and I can’t find the right lines or mix the right color, and things aren’t working and you fear you are destroying whatever it is you have worked however long on up to that point. THOUGH, I will acknowledge that those days and moments in the canvas do tend to come out the best eventually. Fighting a bit nearly always forces me to think about the line differently and approach from a new angle in an attempt to get traction and that tends to create something I’ve never drawn or painted before. Maybe its more simple. Maybe its trying to make something that does justice to the narrative.

CH.89: What is one thing you love about being an artist?

MT: All the things I just listed in the hardest part question? I love being able to make things. The feeling in the studio when you are on a roll and time slips away, it stops existing! And you are finding lines easily and colors are working and the brush seems to be on autopilot and it feels like you’re collaborating with your body. Like your head is thinking things and your hand is executing in perfect time as if they both had the same idea at the same time. Next thing you know its 5, 8, 16 hours later and you haven’t eaten and you’ve listened to the same album on loop for nearly the entire time. I love those days. And similarly I love the days when you finish a piece and you step back to take in the image as whole for the first time.

CH.89: Is there anyone in particular, any artist’s that inspire you in any way?

MT: A ton. I have contemporaries that are killing it in the art world that I am honored to call friends. Watching them work, seeing what they’re doing with it and how they’re doing it always inspires me. Painters like Tala Madani and Titus Kaphar and artists without medium focus like Tavares Strachan. I love all of their work, I’ve been lucky enough to see their work since we were in school together and watch it and them grow and they keep me in awe. Berlinde De Bruyckere’s Cripple Tree in Venice really rocked my world too. Its incredible and beautiful. Sigmar Polke I find endlessly fascinating for how long he has stayed relevant in an industry that loves the new and how his mind works when approaching canvases.

CH.89: What do you think of technology in terms of being a useful tool for artists today?

MT: Technology is incredible! I welcome it with open arms. I don’t think anything will replace the hand for me, but I’ll take it all, the help technology offers with the peripherals like mock ups and helping to make decisions in the work when I’m stuck.

CH.89: Do you think being an artist allows you to view the world differently from those who don’t follow creative paths?

MT: I think that being an artist gives you a venue to give your views a voice. But because of the nature of my work I tend to be around a lot of people who wouldn’t consider themselves artists or creative types but who are actively engaged with the world from very interesting and well thought out places. I think that being an artist may encourage a different view but actually viewing the world differently is not specific to artists.

CH.89: Do you enjoy traveling? If so, do you have a favorite city?

MT: I do love to travel and picking a favorite is tough. I was born in New Orleans, I try and get back there at least once a year. I love it there, I love the vibe of the people, the incredible food, the music. the place is magical. I don’t know why but Copenhagen was a huge surprise to me. I visited when I was in my late teens and I had a ton of fun. I haven’t made it back yet but I would love to. And I’ve only been to Berlin once and would love to fix that immediately.

CH.89: Do you have a favorite author or book?

MT: I have a degree in English, I’ve loved to read since I was a young kid and a teacher introduced me to Martin Amis’s Dead Babies. Henry Miller has been an inspiration throughout my life. I love him, Tropic of Cancer was a big influence growing up. I think Tropic of Cancer and Steppenwolf  by Herman Hesse were two very strong foundation blocks for me. Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Matterhorn by Diaz and Marlantes respectively have been two heavy hitters in the past ten years. I LOVE those books. Recently I fell into a rabbit hole of the Flashman series by Fraser and the more recent and popular The Art of Fielding by Harbach I was really pleasantly surprised by.

CH.89: Any future goals or plans for your artwork?

MT: Like daft punk said better, faster, stronger. I’m looking to cut down on the nostalgic distance between the memories of youth and the active engagement of the now. I want to keep improving the investigation and how its presented, but I think/hope that this is a goal that will always exist.

CH.89: What does being an artist mean to you?

MT: It means the freedom to engage with whatever you find interests you and the freedom to find everything interesting. It means having the discipline to dig deeper both in your interests and in yourself and the obligation to engage in the enjoyment of finding new things to experience and new epic ways to say share those experiences.

CH.89: Any last words on the aesthetic of your artwork?

MT: One thing that made a big difference in the development of my work was understanding that not all artists think the same way. I was making paintings that had some okay moments and nearly an equal amount of dispassionate unresolved terrible moments. When I realized that it wasn’t just that I was good at line work, but that I actually THINK in line, everything got better. I began to feel less pressure to be the sort of painter that I imagined a painter should be and I allowed for my work to reflect my own ways of thinking about things. I let all of the parts of the work that I wasn’t engaging with fall away and what was left became the germ of what my work is now.



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