Max Magnus Norman has a huge collection of paintings to check out on his site. I was in awe of the amount of work he has done. Not only the quantity, but the quality and variety of his projects is exciting to explore.
Norman has a breadth of work that spans everything from this prehistoric glimpse of an underwater ballet teaming with Plesiosaurs to the ultra futuristic “ships” and images of an industrial vision of what seems to be an entombed figure. I admire his perception and execution of everything from perspective and design to color and texture. There is such variety in his work that it’s hard to capture just what his style is. And I, for one, appreciate that. To pigeon-hole someone because of a self imposed limitation as to subject matter and visual style is a sad way to define an artist.
As Norman states in the interview he does paintings that are true representations of “visions” he has. Images of the mind that are limited only by an artist’s ability to convey them honestly are in good hands when they belong to Norman.
I am not able to critique the technical aspect of an artist’s work. However, in Norman’s work there are times when he captures a scene with such elegant imaginative realism that the whimsical figures, shapes and ideas have even more impact.
I love the fact that you can see the true texture of what it is he is painting on. The bumps, nails, lines and wrinkles give the work an amazing character and personality that brings it to a level above the simple illusion of a work of art. Real life peeking through the artwork itself, no matter how fantastical the images might be, adds dimension and so much more.
I know I say this all the time, but this work inspires me to feel more free to explore my own ideas, visions and technique. That, for me, is an invaluable discovery.
Cid: How old are you?
Max: I was born July 30th in 1973, which makes me 29 this year.
Cid: Do you have formal art training or education?
Max: Yes, I’ve spent about three years in two art schools, but I don’t think that has affected me that much apart from obtaining some technical knowledge.
Cid: When you were growing up, did you feel that your creativity got special attention?
Max: Yes and no. The Swedish school system was very devoted to leftism during my childhood which meant that everyone should be cast in the same mold and that everyone should have no more or less chance to develop than anybody else. The result is as always under such circumstances that most, and especially talented kids, get a less chance for development. Of course people noticed that I had a knack for getting things done, and getting things done very good also, but no one backed me up in an extent beyond supplying me with the most essential materials.
Cid: Are Art and Design the way you make a living?
Max: Yes, but in order keep my economy in some balance I sometimes work as a teacher or work nights delivering newspapers, I prefer the newspaper-job since it’s both more fun and gives more cash(!) than teaching.
Cid: Have you been a part of the “art scene” where you live? Do you attend gallery openings, check out the latest offerings of local talent, hang out where the creative community migrate to? How would you describe the art community where you live.
Max: I can’t say I’m a part of the local art scene. Though it seems like everybody who claim to be a part of it knows who I am and have opinions about me and my art. The art scene here in the city of Sundsvall (pop. aprox. 100 000) consists of 3-4 phalanxes ranging from the “happy amateur club” (which favourite occupation seems to take over the annual Sundsvall art calender contest and vote in their members to all twelve pages) to the “black guard” (“black” as in the colour of their clothes, those people from God knows what planet which controls the two local art museums making it impossible to exhibit there for all artists but their politically correct and non-communication-able “homies”. But it’s no greater loss for us on the outside since due to incompetent handling Sundsvall’s art museums has virtually no visitors at all). It’s all a mafia-light duck-pond which I do not feel comfortable in, but I suppose me and my scarcely few Swedish artist friends make up our own phalanx of sorts. But of course I check out exhibitions and such in hope to find something uplifting.
Cid: Do you have any children and if so, do they show an interest in artistic ventures?
Max: No, but my sister and brothers have lots of kids, some with kids of their own, and they seem to think it’s inspiring to have an uncle who is a bit odd and makes wooden toys and such for them.
Cid: As an artist, do you feel people see you in any certain stereotypical way?
Max: Yes and no. Often if people hear that I work as an artist they regard me somewhat suspiciously, probably considering that many work-shy and/or crazy people poses as artists, but when they see my work I’m generally accepted – “at least he’s a good craftsman”.
Cid: Do you feel there is a stigma or blessing attached to being an artist amongst the “normal” people of the world?
Max: As an artist you stand somewhat outside society, it’s a great freedom where you fit in well in almost all social layers of the society. As an artist you blend in both among workers and on upper class parties. To be an artist today is like being a shaman – social rules do not apply in the same way as for “ordinary slobs”, this really seem to frighten some people. It’s a freedom which should be handled with care so it doesn’t get over one’s head since the social game is rather pointless and draws attention from what’s important; one’s artistic work and voyage.
Cid: Are you an adventurous artist, trying new tools, mediums, ideas to keep your passion for creating alive? Or, are you reserved, preferring to stick with what you know, what makes you feel comfortable and safe in your skill “zone”?
Max: I constantly try out new tools and stuff but it seems like the most effective way for me to work – especially when painting – is in a rather traditional manner – that is and probably will continue to be the material core of my creativity. I know how to program a computer (I’m currently working on a 3D game which will be released on my homepage later this year) and I’m a rather good photographer but when depicting my visions it seems to be better the closer to my hands I bring the work.
Cid: Are you interested in computers and the internet? If yes, how does the technological world come together with your creative thinking?
Max: I think the Internet is a necessary way to bring the world together, computers and the net are still in their cradle and one must keep in one’s mind that not many people use the net in any greater extent yet, but artists which make sure to be there – on the net – now in the beginning will make profit from this in the future – if they handle this power well. I use my site kind of as a billboard, so that anyone who is interested can be inspired by my art and get a hint of who I am and what I’m capable of. It works fairly well since I get about 1000 unique visitors every day.
Cid: What plans do you have for the future? Any new mediums or areas of the artistic world that you would like to explore?
Max: I will work more with stone and develop more software. If everything goes as planned I will represent Sweden during the building of the “Monument to Mankind, M2M” in Dubai this winter. There I will carve a 100x100x100 centimetres large stone cube which will describe Swedish people and culture. Artists from all over the world are invited to do the same for their countries and in the end there will be 192 such stone cubes put along terraces on a stepped pyramid, describing humanity. More about this on www.humanitad.org.
More long term future plans are to get out in the world not only via the net, I have a quite desperate need for a better place to stay, a house which I can mess around in without consideration to neighbours or landlords, and better places to exhibit my art, decent galleries and art halls, but I’m quite confident that such matters will be solved in time.
Cid: Among your work are many different styles and ideas represented. There is a strong overtone of Surrealism mixed with, oddly enough, realism. “Dying Elephant” is poignant and elegant as a realistic depiction of a moment in time that the viewer has no choice but to understand what is happening. While in “Sphinxilinx” an unreal fantastical element leaves the viewer to wonder and ask questions. Do you intentionally set out to offer such a wide range of images and styles?
Max: I do not believe in restrictions. One needs some restrictions during learning but when one knows what one’s doing restrictions are out of order. Many artists (modern and
traditional alike) and creative people cling to often conservative restrictions seeking some kind of security, that is indeed sad and very destructive regarding all the good things which are put on hold that way. I believe that senselessness to a certain extent is a crucial ingredient in order to obtain creative balance, to get into the swing of things and get things swinging.
Cid: Do you ever change a painting to conform to more conventional expectations, or do you always let your ideas take over your work with no interference from the outside world?
Max: When I paint I’m entirely on my own. I paint the visions I see without altering them at all. If I should “taint” my work with someone else’s thoughts the mystical message would be
distorted. My art and my visions are sacred – my religion – and it would not only be a sin/crime against the deeper levels of my mind/soul/spirit from which these images are sent but also to the people who now see themselves in my art (which in that case they wouldn’t). The mirror of the soul must be kept clear. But I see no problem in taking these visions and turn them into for instance murals, or adjust their format to be a public piece, or make posters from them – if someone wanted that and paid for it – just as long as the motif itself is not altered.
Cid: “Early Attempts With Walking Machines” is an interesting vision of invention. I admit I have seeds of Star Wars planted my head, but the mixture of that science fiction concept and the very believable figures who are obviously building or testing out the machine is surprisingly stimulating. It conjures up images of people out in some secret location developing futuristic machines that, until now, we only see on film. Do you intend for viewers, such as myself, to attach such meaning and narrative to your work, or do you have specific ideas that you are trying to convey?
Max: Of course there is such a meaning in these paintings. What artists should realize is that what they paint (or visualize through any other media) will become the future, whether their work will inspire inventors, politicians, writers etc to make their ideas concrete or if it’s a mystical magical process which is started, the sum is the same; what you paint is what you get – in little or in grand. Walking machines will be a coming big thing at the same scale as trains, cars and computers and inventors are right in this moment striving to solve the basic issues with such machines.
Cid: In “The Lion Gate” it seems to be a hopeless situation for the figure who seems to be waiting for the gate to open. He appears to believe he is safe but there is nothing between he and the lion but the illusion of protection. Again, I am interpreting what I see in one of your paintings. Can I ask (as one would of a magician to reveal their secrets) what is the meaning, or concept of this particular work? And, does it bother you when people do not understand? Do we appear ignorant or uninformed?
Max: Funny you should use the word “magician” since I feel somewhat more at home with that title than the quite washed out “artist”-label. The meaning of the lion gate is (I think) that it is a gate. Each of these paintings are a prophecy and a spell. A person who feels at home with or see a reflection of something in themselves in a painting such as “The Lion Gate” can meditate over it which in time will cause the Lion Gate (the door on the right) to open and he or she may enter.
There’s not much that bothers me about what people think and do or do not understand with my art or persona, I’ve heard and seen some amazing stuff during my exhibitions, people getting so scared that they have left the exhibition running and people telling that they have seen things and places they remember from their own dreams in my paintings. But there’s one thing which is bothering me somewhat, and that is the common interpretation of the word “vision”. What I mean when I say that I paint and sculpt my visions is not that I have a made-up idea about future goals and prospects. When I speak about visions I mean images, hallucinations, such images which appears in your mind, crystal clear, during meditation or just before sleep, these are the kind visions I paint and sculpt, not the kind of “visions” a corporate leader or politician wishes to hand down to his underdogs. When I see my visions I see the future painting as it will be, finished, as a prophecy of the coming painting – when I later paint it, it always becomes what I’ve seen. It’s kind of an life insurance, since when I have seen a painting before my inner eye I know that I at least will live to paint it.
Cid: I see several social, cultural and religious references in your work. Some might be offended or turned away by some of the images that include depictions of what appears to be Satan, Hell and other darker icons. Do you receive any negative feedback in relation to these images? How do you counter any criticism or negative feedback that comes from those afraid to accept these images to be as valid and visually/conceptually stimulating as any other?
Max: During the eight years I’ve been on the net I’ve received only one negative response regarding religious matters, and I think he changed his mind slightly after some E-mail correspondence. On the contrary, it seems like religious people generally like my art, and why shouldn’t they? The only things in my art which contradict today’s beliefs are issues that go against dogma and stupidity (quite often put on by power-hungry second hand followers to the original gurus and prophets).
Cid: A lot of your worlds or scenes are on a grand scale with the figures as very small seemingly overwhelmed tiny creatures going to meet some kind of inevitable fate. How far off base am I in this evaluation and if it’s remotely correct, what is the basis for this of man vs. the universe concept? How do your paintings reflect your own view of life and the world in general?
Max: Our inside is as large as what we see on our outside. In order to be conscious our minds need to span the entire reality. People are generally capable of far more and are far more grand than they are taught to be, don’t look at the stars and feel small, look at the stars and think; “Since I can see this, there’s room for it in my head”.
Cid: Your work ranges in size from very small to quite large. Do you have a preference as to what dimensions you work with? (painting on the right is only 8 by 13 in)
Max: You might notice that the number “122” occurs quite often in the measure specifications of my paintings, the reason for this is far from mystic; the off the shelf standard size for the board I prefer painting on is 244X122 centimetres. You can see the same thing with artists painting on canvas, standard width of a roll of canvas is about 140 centimetres, which makes quite a few paintings size about 130 centimetres in some direction. When it comes to the format of my paintings I work with the Golden Section, if it’s not a “Golden Rectangle” (The long side X 0.618, like a package of cigarettes) it can be two Golden Rectangles beside each other (kind of like a TV-screen) or a square, those three formats are the ones I usually prefer.
Cid: Final question – you said in your response to my initial request to do an article about you “I’m on that stage in my career when it’s still fun to be interviewed”. Does it become increasingly less appealing to answer questions about your work as you become more established as an artist? Do you feel that at a certain point you will let your work speak for itself without the need to explain it to those of us still struggling to understand?
Max: I do not strive to become a celebrity but I think it’s inevitable to some extent as things are developing today, and if it’s necessary in order to make life into less struggle and make my art more accessible for the public then it’s OK. I’m not a particularly social person, I do not believe that the human species is a flock-bound animal, (I believe that humans are social animals but I think pack-behaviour indicates that something is or have gone wrong). I do not like repetitive stuff, such as following routines, do the laundry each Sunday, eat dinner at four o’clock, go to work at the same time every day, etc. The same things go for my art, one thing that can be tiresome is having to answer the same questions once every ten minutes during exhibitions. It’s not that bad with interviews, not at all, but I do not know how I will reason in a few years. I do not mind people asking me questions about my art, on the contrary, but sometimes it’s obvious that people make no effort on their own to find the answers first, or they ask just in order to socialize, and such things are sad.