Recently I visited the studio of Jesus Max at the 1019 West studio building in Inglewood. I had only met Jesus a short time before so this was my first visit to his studio and a chance for some more in-depth conversation.
Virginia Broersma: I thought we could start with talking about what you’re working on right now.
Jesus Max: I’m working on this big painting right now – this is the size I want to work with lately – with four pictures of my daughter, with the iPod, in this kind of room, with this very strange light and base. It’s a very symbolic and mysterious painting.
VB: Yes, I’ve noticed that you use a lot of symbolism in your work.
VB: So the details all have symbolic meanings for you? Are the meanings personal, or…
JM: Well some of it is personal, but I try to take a lot from historical painting, and religious painting and symbolist painting form the 19th century, which is the kind of art I like very much. And this narrative and symbolic aspect of art, which is now a little bit lost, because sociology, politics and this sort of stuff is more prominent.
VB: So are you telling stories with your paintings?
JM: Yeah, every painting is pretty much a little story, with its own range of symbols and personal relationships.
VB: From your titles and looking at your paintings, it looks like you use family members and friends as your models?
JM: Yeah- that’s what I do. In the case of family members, it’s mostly because they are the easiest people to reach, the persons most at hand to work with, but in my daughter’s case, I even pay her whenever she has to, you know, work- sitting for me. So, I want to establish this professional sitter/painter relationship with everybody, even if it’s my family.
VB: I was curious about something I saw on your CV – it said that you were a co-founder of a prestigious art group- what was that?
JM: Yeah, well this was an art group – A UA CRAG – which was working in Spain in this small town in Spain for more than 10 years. But we were working, you know, making shows in France, Paris, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany; it was an interchange with art groups in all these cities. Here I have this… (he points to a substantial book on his desk about the group)…so we started as a group of artists from several parts of the country, working in this small place.
VB: Was the emphasis to discuss or show your work? Or did your work have things in common?
JM: Mostly it was the intercommunication with other groups in other countries. The funny thing was that there was a little bit of this Fluxus kind of spirit, although people like myself were always fighting with all the Fluxus types. You had different kinds of artists in the room, you know, it was like Sigmar Polke/ Joseph Beuys kind of debate.
VB: You talked about using a lot of art history as references in your work, are there specific artists that you look at?
JM: Yeah, well in some paintings I even use fragments or parts of a specific painting, and then crop and manipulate…all kinds of stuff. The one on the left over there (Celia After the Dragons, 2010) the background is a Raphael painting – St. George with the Dragon – but I removed St. George and the maid in distress, and I put my daughter in it. I toned the feeling very differently. And the landscape in the background of the one on the right (Raquel At Dusk, 2010) which is with my wife, is a Poussin landscape.
VB: And those are dragons in the corners?
JM: Well, they look like dragons, but actually they are real animals taken from engravings in old books. But they work as dragons. In Celia After the Dragons I was playing with the story of the maid, who is sitting for the dragon, that is why she has the garland of flowers Hawaiian style–
VB: the lei?
JM: – and the cave -it’s about emptiness, darkness , and this thing about adolescence; in other cases its more paradisiacal kind of painting. The dragon for me does not have a negative meaning every time.
VB: What part of the process do you enjoy the most?
JM: When I finish them! You’re a painter, so you know what I mean!
VB: Yeah, (laughs), although I’ve found that people always have different answers and I find it interesting to see what people have to say.
JM: I don’t know about you, but when they’re almost finished, getting to the last part, I really enjoy the painting, because the big problems are solved, and I know I’m finishing it. It can also be very horrible.
VB: If it didn’t come out right?
JM: Yeah, I always have this crisis in the last few days before I finish, when I feel like I’m doing everything wrong, I just want to get over that feeling!
VB: Yes- doubt creeps in. So is the ending also the most difficult part of the process for you?
JM: The most difficult is probably the beginning. The first part in my work process is I start at my computer and my camera; I shoot a lot of pictures, until I focus the idea. And then I am just cutting things, taking things, looking for something…it’s like in a song: you have on one side the music and one side the lyrics and you have to….
VB: put it together.
VB: Has being in California changed your work?
JM: Yeah I guess so- it’s been a while since I came here, and this kind of painting I’m doing now that I started two or three years ago, I seriously doubt if I stayed in Spain, if I would be doing the same kind of work.
See more of Jesus Max’s work at www.jesusmax.com and in the South Bay Focus group show at the Torrance Art Museum, which will be on exhibit through December 15, 2012. Jesus Max is represented by Evelyn Botella Gallery in Madrid, Spain.