Athen B's Kellen Chasuk had the pleasure of talking Max Kauffman’s ear off all summer to find not only is he a talented painter, but also quite the joke-teller, curator, scavenger, and road tripper. Max spoke to her about the ebb and flow of his life as an artist, including taking some time off the constant pressure to produce work in traditional forms. Instead, he took some time to think and plan before making a fresh body of work for his show When the Current Dictates that opens Friday, September 16 at Cass Contemporary in Tampa Bay. Photographs and Video by Dominick Gray
“…it’s like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” -E.L. Doctorow
Kellen Chasuk | Hey Max! For those who don’t know you- where are you from and how did you end up here in Oakland?
Max Kauffman | I was born in Chicago and raised in a scrappy place called South Bend, Indiana. Ive moved around a little over the years, and Oakland is feeling like home at present. Been here 4 years in October.
In talking with you, it seems you’ve almost had to separate parts of yourself to get to a place of making again; taking time to sort through ideas before making yourself act on anything visually. How has this extra step away and alternative method of processing changed the physical manifestation of your ideas?
It's been extremely healthy. Lately I feel like a farmer when it comes to art- for me personally long deep stretches of art followed by break stretches feel right. When I come back to art from a break the meter is high so to speak. Everything flows, it feels like play and I can get lost in it for as long as needed. Of course I still make art in these breaks, but the output is considerably less.
What does it mean for you to “take time off art”?
As said, I’m never really taking time off, but rather large breaks between serious stretches of making. I’ll make little things or draw almost everyday, but deep deep studio time I’ve been enjoying doing in long spurts. When I’m taking time off, I’ll curate shows, or plan various projects or just accumulate references- it still contributes to the process but in a more passive role.
Aside from painting, you also curate. Have you always seen yourself in an artist/curator position, or was that something that came along with being a part of a larger arts community?
I have done it on and off since 2004. In Indiana there weren’t many venues to show things off, so it was fun to get a space and a group of people together to show off our artings. Over the years I’ve waxed and waned on it, but at present putting one show together a year feels nice. Almost like a tithe. It’s definitely a connection to the larger arts community- it’s a joy for me to help friends whose work I adore get more attention, and on the opposite end of the scale, get the chance to work with heroes who influenced me when starting out.
Your current formats of work (stretched linen, wood panels, and paintings on various found objects) are all not completely new for you, but your commitment to utilize more than paper creates a sense of permanence and engages pictorial space in a much different way. Your new works seem to objectify the themes you’ve been working with to create relics of sort. What was your thinking behind this shift in dimensional materiel?
Nothing too crazy, just wanted a change. I’ve done work on paper for more than a decade so it’s been refreshing to switch mediums. Originally I imagined I would do the same process/style on these new mediums, but they started to dictate what worked best for that particular surface. Especially linen, I found that its texture was enough dischord for my style, and the natural response was to paint very flat, clean glyphs on the surface. Really looking forward to tackling more work in that style.
Do you find the act of painting to be more fulfilling than the finished piece, or is the combination of process and product the true sweet spot for you as a painter?
Process is king.
I know you are living life in the moment, but what does the most immediate future for Max Kauffman look like?
The road beckons for now.