An Interview with Artist Maximilian Magnus at his Studio in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin
I first encountered the German artist Maximilian Magnus’s large-scale paintings during Frieze Week at the exhibition What’s Up 2.0 curated by Lawrence Van Hagen. A few weeks later I arrived at the artist’s Berlin studio to see the beautiful space where his abstract-expressionistic paintings are created. Maximilian is known for being the young painter invited to live and work in Willem de Kooning’s East Hampton studio, and although I’m here to see his paintings, one must acknowledge that he's an inter-disciplinary artist who also moves into the realms of performance and conceptual art. Nonetheless, in the form of individual works - as well as diptychs and triptychs - his bold, gestural paintings have been exhibited from Israel to Poland, Russia and Brazil. As he describes in his biography, “I am not necessarily careful and work physically with my entire body, in order to leave powerful gestures. Emotions, which I carry inside me, I transfer and materialise.” As a child, Maximilian danced ballet and this is reflected by the way in which he brings colour into the canvas with powerful, bold movements and above all a force of energy. As an abstract painter the artist described how unlike many of his contemporaries, “I am not an intellectual, but emotional painter, who is inspired by the tidal waves of his own life experiences.”
As an interviewer, rarely do I enter an artist’s studio that is both impressive as a workplace, but is also an atmospheric living space with high ceilings and an exquisite collection of furniture and art. In terms of materials, Maximilian works with, “acrylics, lacquer, charcoal and pencil, and gestural lines, drips and planes,” traces of which are dashed across the floorboards. As we spoke, I drank nettle tea with melodic music and candles in the background, and it felt more like a spiritual retreat than work. The space, he tells me, reflects the spirituality of his mother. He’s very focussed on giving back starting the Kulturegg in 2004 which encompasses the Children’s Art Academy, the Academy of Scenic Painting & Arts and Studio Schmidbauer, and he later founded the Move the World platform. Maximilian grew up within an artistic family, his grandfather was an artist in Transylvania and he is planning an expedition to find the house that he lived in with a view to combining their work in an exhibition. He rightly declared that, “an audience always like a little romance behind a narrative.” Amongst artists, seldom is sentiment combined with business sense, and a solid understanding – though perhaps not admiration – for the commercial side of art. As he described, “there’s a ritual to selling my work. If I sell a painting, then I’ll take some of the money to another artist to see what I can buy from them, bringing my earnings back into a positive circle.”
Before moving into art, Maximilian first studied scenic painting under his father Werner Schmidbauer - a celebrated scenic painter - and at the Louis Lepoix School in Baden-Baden, designing sets and working with theatre director Robert Wilson. Soon after he found himself at the Watermill Centre, New York and was invited by the Dutch-American abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning’s daughter Lisa to live and work in the late artist’s studio for a couple of years, even sleeping in his bed as they launched the artists’ residency. Ironically, it’s only over the past few months that Maximilian has sensed any similarity between their work, drawing comparison with only some elements of the, “colour and movements.” Maximilian is now based in Berlin – apart from escaping for the winter to do residencies in Southern Europe – where he began life as an outgoing artist, embracing the parties and art openings, but now prefers, “to see exhibitions alone.” His favourite galleries change according to, “the exhibitions on show and the love they put it,” but Galerie Judin is where he’d love to see his largest works exhibited - “if a space inspires me to dream or be playful it does something to me.” Maximilian also likes Plan B, “and Hamburger Bahnhof, because I like the idea that trains used to run there, there was all this movement before.” Although, from our afternoon together, the defining line was that, “I’m not painting to be part of the art scene, I’m doing it, because I have to.” Follow him at @maximilianmagnus to keep in touch.
Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to be an artist?
I have always been creative and felt like I was part of the process of creating. Therefore I guess I have always been an artist. As we grow older society asks you for your profession at some point and you have to name it.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
It all starts inside. There is no clear vision of how a work has to look, rather it's about dimensions and how expressive it will be.
What piece of your artwork would you like to be remembered for?
It's not the work you see it's the vision I have. For example, I’m creating a place in Germany in the Bavarian countryside where both children and adults can free themselves and learn about art, culture and life. Most importantly, they can learn about a new way of living more consciously through art. In general, I believe that all arts should transport a message in terms of the ways it disturbs or the way that its beauty makes people think, dream and ultimately inspires them to do great things in this world. Not for their sake but for the world's.
If you could work within a past art movement, which would it be?
I would rather enjoy spending time building a new art movement.
Can you describe your relationship with Willem de Kooning?
Books don't really tell you much about him, but when I was working in his space, I was told amazing stories about Willem and his private life by his daughter, the very talented Lisa. I also saw his grandchildren climbing his massive sculptures in his mansion in the Hamptons, New York. That was as close as one could get to Willem and his work. The experience was very peaceful, intimate and wonderful.
How would you define beauty in 140 characters or less?
We all have different ideas of beauty. The inside, the outside or the one we never reach, feel or see. For me beauty is everything that comes with strong, authentic love from within. It can be the shine in an old man's eyes telling a story from his life. You feel real beauty - you don't see it.
Do you have a favourite photograph or painting, which inspires you?
People love references, but I don't. It's all about the photographs and paintings that I create when I have my eyes closed.
What is your greatest indulgence in life?
Indulgence in terms of joy? I guess it's the moment that I realise that I am in the present and realise there is nothing else. Sharing this with my love, family or friends gives me the biggest joy in life.
How does the culture of Berlin impact your work?
I don't know if it does. What is the culture of Berlin for you, me or others? Living here and getting the vibe I'm creating does influence me.
Which artist of the past would you most like to meet?
Do you interact with the digital world/technology in your work?
I have produced videos in the past and will do again. Maybe there will be an app I might build to visit other planets in the future or maybe it ends with using my phone. I guess someone has to show me technology that blows me away, that I can use to touch people's hearts.
What do you wish every child were taught?
Awareness, kindness and the acceptance that everyone is great and loveable the way we are. That we are all here for a reason, have the same rights and should treat others as kindly as possible. But also, being responsible for their actions and understanding how wonderful it is to have the guts to apologise or show gratitude from the bottom of their hearts.
Have you ever had a moment when you questioned your career entirely?
Ha, career. I don't think in terms of careers, but instead I live my passion as much as possible and I'm so thankful for that. I question my works all the time but I never question the creative process, only the outcome. But that is ego. The final result is not as important as the path. But of course I don't give works away that I don't agree with.
What is your favourite art gallery in Berlin and why?
It is Galerie Judin for a rather egotistical reason. It is the place that always makes me want to work and play in it and produce amazing works of art to exhibit there that I haven't yet produced. I also love Plan B because I feel they have their mind set right. They don't show off or try to be on-the-scene, they create something more than that and it's feeling that I really enjoy everytime that I visit.
Do you work within a community or independently?
I work independently, but also collaborate with other artists I like and think I can learn from.
Why do you make and receive studio visits?
Art is very intimate and having studio visits is something very private and special for me. Every studio visit is so different. I find it very wonderful although it can also feel very exhausting.
What is your daily routine when working?
I don't have one really but one thing is for sure - I can't paint every day.
What advice would you give to a young artist following in your steps?
Don't listen to much of what others say. Do what you love to the fullest and it will be rewarding in one way or another.
Do you love what you do?
Oh yes, so much! I guess that the best proof of that is that I never wanted to be anyone else nor do anything else. Everyday I'm thankful for what I feel, experience and the love that I have in life. And there is so much of it. Thanks for asking such wonderful questions Flora and your visit to my Berlin studio. It was a pleasure.
See more at http://www.maximilianmagnus.com/
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of Arteviste.com