An Insight into Max Gimblett's studio Matt Jones, 2012
Monday through Thursday from eight in the morning until four or five in the late afternoon I spend my hours with Max as I've done for the last twelve years. I witness and participate to one degree or another in every step of his practice. I can break down each moment of a painting and single out the materials and methods employed. Over the years it's become clear to me that Max's work arrives from the fingertips of a sorcerer plunging the depths of our collective imagination to pull works of great power, beauty and alchemic mastery.
The monumental works of The Ballad of the South Pacific began as most of Max's paintings begin. Stretchers are ordered to his specifications from an art supply company in Brooklyn and arrive a week later. Giovanni Forlino and Kristen Reyes, Max’s two studio assistants, stretch number twelve cotton duck over the bars to Max's desired tightness. Max applies several layers of gesso in a manner similar to his well known all mind / no mind calligraphic work with more brutish muscularity - the task at hand warrants a twist on the familiar finished technique. He starts from the top left and paints across the length of the surface. It takes several rows of this up and down left to right before the canvas is covered. One paints differently when filling space than when exploring it. There is some light sanding of gesso between layers. We sit and discuss ideas of Da Vinci's Vitruvian Figure, human scale in a space, and its relationship to these large canvases. We talk about the body in space relative to the canvas. We talk about the monolith in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Leda and The Swan - In Memoriam - For Cy Twombly seems to exist underwater looking towards the surface. Various Earth and Fire elements participate in an ancient ritual - or perhaps play, courting one another, the marriage of creative forces born in the seas. The title is inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke's poem Leda, the story is from Greek Mythology (a frequent source for inspiration as is also revealed in The Princess Mnemosyne and Odysseus - After Willem de Kooning). Rubens, Cezanne, and Dali have painted Leda. Twombly, to whom the painting is dedicated, abstracted this story of Zeus seducing Leda, daughter of the Aetolian king Thestius, in the form of a swan, in his painting from 1962. Max pays homage here. Max's painting has a fluid sensuality encompassing the tale it tips its hat to with powerful, clear, and direct marks on its oceanic ground.
Max locates and pays respect to his artist lineage via his references to those who came before him, the works they've made, and his dedication to his painting practice.
Hemmingway is an ancestor in this lineage. Max adores him, reads everything he's written over and over again, religiously. "Hemmingway is a mentor to me, a hero. Hemmingway is my father." There's a relationship between Hemmingway's short stories and his ability to describe a life, eating, drinking, and human behaviour that formed Max as an artist and I believe updated his interest in the heroic, romantic, and mythological into a modern form specific to Max and his time. Across the River and into the Trees comes from Hemmingway.
Max often starts his paintings, the calligraphic portion, from the top left or right corner and I've heard him refer to the "edge" more than a few times as it has great significance for him. He's an edge painter, brought up on the edge of the South Pacific. The two most important aspects of a painting for him are the centre and the edge. "With a rectangle you have to frame your form, with a quatrefoil it's a frame in itself," he says. The rectangles are a return to a shape he hasn't worked with since 1979 and the last 70 x 90" double bar Sacred Geometry painting. He had gotten it into his head that the rectangle wasn't a shape anymore. It was generalized. "You had to invent an image to fit the rectilinear space and never knew what distance to travel vertically or horizontally." I asked him why he's painting them now, we had a laugh and he then said "when you don't do something for twenty to thirty years it's very refreshing to do it."
Prior to sending the works from the Bowery to Auckland they live in stacks around the studio waiting to be wrapped. They look like the unbound books of a giant. We talk about how Max’s paintings are partially derived from Illuminated Medieval manuscripts.
These paintings are the colossal pages containing the stories of Max’s mythology.
Knowing what I do about the process of the works, the conversations around them, the references and sources of inspiration I tend to suspend it all and imagine Max up late, fuelled by coffee, paint dripping from his hands dipping his brush into a smouldering cauldron of liquid metal and with a great shout heaving the brush in an intense fluid motion across the glassy surface of a painting, the molten metal cooling in seconds, leaving alchemic waves frozen in time.