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MAXWELL STEVENS - “Last Days of Summer”

"Maxwell Stevens: A Contemporary Take on Gestural Abstraction Meets Beach Bliss"

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS Article
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS Article
MAXWELL STEVENS - “Last Days of Summer”
Maxwell Stevens

Maxwell Stevens

Date
Sep 27, 2023
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Exploring the Vibrancy of Long Island's Coast through Explosive Art

In the hallowed halls of gestural abstraction, where artists like De Kooning and Pollock once roamed, there emerges a contemporary force to reckon with - Maxwell Stevens. Inspired by the rugged beauty of the North Atlantic coast, particularly Long Island, Stevens has embarked on a creative journey that seamlessly fuses explosive abstractions with meticulously rendered beach scenes. These works, adorned in jewel-like blues, aquas, and teals, serve as an exuberant celebration of leisure, companionship, and family, all while embracing the voyeuristic spirit that thrives on public beaches, where individuals willingly expose themselves to the watchful eyes of others.

A Personal Ode to Long Beach

Maxwell Stevens' artistic voyage takes us deep into the heart of Long Beach, one of New York City's most beloved summer destinations. Armed with a treasure trove of beach photos collected over numerous summers spent along its shores, Stevens, an ardent beach enthusiast, shares, "Some of my most memorable experiences have been at the beach; it's a place of uninhibited leisure and letting go of everything. At the same time, it is a place for reflection, a site for us to readjust through life's journey. I want these paintings to convey that same positive effect on the viewer."

From Sinuous Contours to Energetic Explosions

Stevens' artistic journey unfolds as a visual transformation. His signature sinuous contours and smears have given way to a burst of highly energetic expressions. Scattered brushstrokes, sweeping gestures, drips, and playful plops of paint now dance across his canvases, immersing each scene into his unique approach to abstraction. The result is a series of loose and playful compositions that skid into and over the top of beachgoers, sunbathers, and surfers alike.

A Kaleidoscope of Emotions on Canvas

Visitors to the gallery are greeted by an array of large paintings that dominate the space. These works showcase Stevens' ability to seamlessly shift between bright abstractions and figural compositions. "Beach Scene, Siblings," for instance, captures the essence of youthful leisure as a group of sunbathers basks in the coastal sun. The enticing allure of a woman fixing her hair is beautifully counterbalanced by the innocence and mirth of her companions under their vibrant beach umbrella. In the background, a multitude of beachgoers fade into the horizon, creating a sense of unity in diversity.

In the realm of contemporary art, Maxwell Stevens has carved a niche that bridges the grand tradition of gestural abstraction with the vibrant, ever-changing spirit of Long Island's coastal beauty. His explosive abstractions superimposed onto meticulously detailed beach scenes offer viewers an exhilarating journey through the realms of leisure, camaraderie, and the captivating allure of public beaches. As you step into his world, you'll find yourself transported to the very shores where the sun, sea, and art converge, evoking a sense of wonder and delight that only the beach can inspire.

In “Beach Scene, In Repose” a young man sits in contemplation as friends chat under the hot sunlight.

And in “Bikini Girl” the over-life-size figure turns powerfully away, her athletic physique and dominating scale displaying a sense of self-empowerment and grandeur balanced with classical beauty. In other works, figures, sand, and surf all dissolve entirely into luminous soft focus.

In a final set of smaller panels entitled “Last Days of Summer” figures are seen at a distance conversing under stormy skies, as summertime draws to a close. There are many magical moments at play throughout the series, now on view.

The exhibition will run from September 1 – October 15, 2023

MAXWELL STEVENS - "LAST DAYS OF SUMMER" NEW PAINTINGS

ONETWENTYEIGHT

128 Rivington Street,

New York, NY, 10002

Gallery Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 11 am - 6 pm, Sunday 1 - 5 pm, and by appointment

INTERVIEW WITH MAXWELL STEVENS

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your artwork?

I’m a contemporary painter living and working in NYC. My paintings mainly combine photorealism and abstraction together to create layered images that present people in various modern settings, most recently

with an emphasis on shared public spaces and the interpersonal dynamics that happen within those settings. These scenes then become the backdrop for improvisational abstractions.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your background shaped your artistic practice?

Living near the ocean has always affected me, especially now in the current series of beach paintings. This aspect has an impact on my abstraction, on the fluidity of the smears, contours and wetness of paint that occurs throughout my work. But also on the flow and the brushwork that happens throughout the images and the glassy surfaces of the finished paintings.

Also, living in big cities definitely has an impact as well, observing so many people all the time in so many different situations alters your imagination as an artist, and shapes the direction and content of the work. In New York City, there’s constant energy and a level of chaos and unpredictability that impacts and influences what you’re doing in the studio. You see a lot of crazy things but you can literally walk out your studio door and go see some of the greatest paintings ever made as well as a lot that's current and challenging.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your creative process changed over the years?

My process has become more deliberate and attentive to detail with the figuration, and more improvisational and open to chance with my abstraction. There’s almost always a thematic concept or subject that directs the work into a developed series.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Are there any artists or movements that have greatly influenced your work? In what way?

I tend to be influenced by specific periods of work by different artists, de Kooning has been an artist I've looked at closely over the years, especially his late work from East Hampton, Long Island. I’ve always admired Brice Marden's Cold Mountain series for creating gestural abstraction within a conceptual framework, and I was glad to have a chance to meet him and discuss art a few times over the years.

In terms of figurative works I enjoy the psychological drama and precision of Artemesia Gentileschi, and on a conceptual level Sherrie Levine has always interested me, her well-crafted subversiveness. Especially her “meltdown” series, in which iconic works of modern art are distilled into geometric abstractions.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How did you arrive at your style? What can you tell us about your individual style and visual language?

The first photorealist paintings I made were in college at The Atlanta College of Art, and at this time I had run

into a dilemma because I began to feel that these paintings relied too much on illusion. This presented something of an artistic crisis for me and after several years of developing this approach, I suddenly decided to abandon figuration altogether. Around the age of 20, I took a summer road trip up the East Coast of the US and visited every major art museum from Boston to Washington, DC, and seeing the major works of Abstract Expressionism in person really changed the way I thought about art.

Upon returning to Atlanta, I created a series of abstract paintings wherein each surface was built up and scraped down with intuitive marks and calligraphic gestures throughout. I presented these in a solo show at Gallery 100 at The Woodruff Arts Center, and I remember for my exit review I met with the painter Mildred Thompson who was teaching there at the time, and it was one of the best conversations I ever had about abstract art. She really understood the work and compared the paintings to the time-worn walls and buildings she had observed during her years in Paris. I realized that these intuitive abstract marks and scraped surfaces were a language that was as effective at communicating as representation and spoke to viewers’ own personal experiences directly.

This approach provided a foundation for my work in graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, and formed the direction I took for the first decade of my career. And there are many aspects of the visual language in my paintings today that were initially developed during my years in downtown St. Louis, and in my studio near the Menil Collection in Houston. However, when I moved to New York City around 2004, I was searching for something newer, and it occurred to me that what I was looking for in my work was a combination of methods. When I reintroduced the figure and subsequently “overpainted” the image abstractly, it clicked immediately, and I set to work on the next, and so on.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What is the idea blending abstract expressionist and realist painting styles?

To some extent, I began to see each as a failed ideology, and that each had in a sense run it's course.

If you look at it historically, you’re talking about centuries of development in Western painting for realism, everything from linear perspective to pop, pastiche, and hyperrealism today, and in abstract art, thousands of years from the first decorative designs and ornaments to subsequent generations of Abstract Expressionism, which now seems to be in a holding pattern.

At the same time, I recognize the value and multiplicity of possibilities of each in what they convey, and started to consider what might be possible in painting that could work pictorially, historically building out of these models as a dialectic rather than falling into embellishing styles of the past or working within an established genre. In other words, to discover a totally new direction, one that can lay the foundation for a new dimension in painting. The more I've worked with this dialectical approach, I've seen how the content and context alters how the abstractions are interpreted, and it has also allowed me to create work in the studio that has a genuine sensation of discovering unknown territories and arriving at pictorial truths that do not otherwise exist.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Capturing everyday imagery in your works seems to be important to you, if so, why?

The everyday is where we all are, it's where our time is spent, where conversations are had, and where things can turn on a dime. And there is so much to observe and to paint. I find everyday scenes much more potent and truthful about our reality, and I'm most drawn to artwork that delves into this area.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How do you select your themes?

As an artist I look at themes that are personally significant to me that I feel will be relatable to the viewer. It’s always something I’ve seen or experienced in my own life that feels the most exciting for a series of paintings.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Please tell us about your latest body of work.

Spending a lot of my youth along Florida's Atlantic coast and summer weekends on the North Atlantic beaches of Long Island, I decided to use this as the setting for the images. Some of my most memorable experiences have been at the beach, it’s a place of uninhibited leisure and of letting go of everything. At the same time, it is a place for reflection, a site for us to readjust through life’s journey. I want these paintings to convey that same positive effect on the viewer.

The images themselves have a pretty, vibrant color and feeling you get in real life, which is why I chose a larger scale for these. Also, the abstractions are really loose and improvised, and I wanted to let them happen in way that was uninhibited like the experience of being at the shore. They seemed to capture the movements, a sense of the immersive carefree experience of the beach itself. So they are about leisure. At the same time, there are quieter works with a more subdued palette, and in these I wanted to focus on another aspect, as a place for reflection and introspection.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Please tell us about your latest exhibition.

My current exhibition “Last Days of Summer” at Onetwentyeight in New York is titled after the final three paintings in the series, and it was arranged in the gallery by rooms. In the front gallery the larger, more colorful works hang side by side, to give the viewer an experience of almost looking around while sitting on a blanket in the sand. There are a lot of sunbathers, beachgoers, friends, and families enjoying themselves, and sapphire blue, turquoise, and teal impasto brushstrokes immersing areas of the paintings into pure abstraction.

The works are almost continuous in their movement from canvas to canvas. The entire group really is intended as a celebration of leisure and friendship, and the breezy atmosphere of the beach. That feeling really comes through the abstraction, because being by the ocean is immersive in that same way, people relaxing under their umbrellas, waves crashing, music being played, the salt air, all of this finds it's way into the paintings.

In the middle and back room there are soft focus abstract works that are really glassy on the surface, almost like melted glass, as the brushstrokes and smears were worked into and over the wet painted images beneath.

There is also a small nude in which the surface was heavily scraped and reworked, immersed into the paint, as well as a single portrait. And there are the three quieter beachscapes titled "Last Days of Summer 1, 2, and 3."

In the back gallery works are a bit more contemplative and subdued, as I was thinking about the end of the summer season, stormy skies coming on, and the sun going down. I was looking at some Dutch landscapes when I was painting these and thinking about how that could be painted today with a different subject and an innovative approach.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What is your favourite medium to work with? Please tell us a bit about how the medium influences or supports the ideas behind your work

Oil painting is by far my favorite medium and the most constant medium I am working with, and most times it is the only one. There is always a wet painting in my studio, often many wet paintings in process or being reworked, overpainted or scraped down again. I enjoy the history of it, working with it and against it, and seeing what other painters are doing to push this versatile material into new directions. At the same time, my approach involves conceptually layering aspects of the history of art in a way, and so even as the imagery is new and current, it’s important to me that it be positioned within the craft and history of oil paintings, which is why I allow the canvas weave and brushstrokes to be visible. I love that interplay between this historic approach and the very new.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Are there any techniques you have developed that you use consistently in your artwork?

The glazing techniques I developed over many years of practice, they are almost water clear when applied but add a level of dimensionality to the figures that feels almost sculptural. It's not something taught in art school, and I began emulating techniques from reading conservation notes on masterworks from prior centuries, but with more archival materials. And like every artist that has been working over a period of time, there are many technical considerations that I've developed upon and refined within each approach. For my overpaintings and abstractions, I have my own mediums, specialized brushes, and techniques as well. I'm a very hands-on artist and I've never used assistants in the studio for any aspect of the work.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What are your plans for the future? Any exciting projects or exhibitions you would like to mention?

Yes, I'm excited to be participating in several upcoming contemporary art fairs in Paris, Miami, and Brussels, as well as (un)Fair Milan which is a new one on the horizon in 2024, and I’m looking forward to gallery exhibitions in New York and Madrid. I'm also looking forward to the publication of the catalogue for "Last Days of Summer" coming in late fall, and a new series of Limited Edition prints to be released in the coming months.

ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What advice would you give to aspiring studio artists.

Trust yourself.

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