Taking a trip through illusion and truth into the vivid dimensionality of Maxx Moses is to journey through the realms of intangible magic within the human spirit. Whipping together urban soul and the organic freedom of the natural world into a glorious explosion of creative imagination, Maxx transports you through your own unconscious to the surreal summits of possibility and drops you there, intensely alive, to gorge on the wonders of pure alchemy…. He spoke to us….
What were your early artistic influences?
My first artistic influences came from my mother, Marion Hopkins, god bless her soul. Her life was a living art form – she was passionate and beautiful, ugly and unpredictable. We never knew where we were going what to expect and how she would react. She exposed us to Plays, Musicals, Concerts, Recitals and even private music lessons, despite not having much money. She always saw us as being more than average. The best part of these trips to the theater was the journey on the 1 train where my eyes were introduced to my second artistic influence Graffiti, Handstyles, Wildstyles the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Once my mind was ink stained with this newly found passion for writing there was no other art form except Graffiti… everything else was fake, stale and produced in a studio and I despised it all!
Did your college experiences broaden your range of influence and possibility without altering your core?
Until 1981 I bombed anything I could in New York. The moment I arrived at college I bombed the entire Art Building with burners, colorful beautiful pieces. I had to make a statement, POSE 2 is here and Graffiti has entered the building. Yea I got plenty of attention and suddenly I was being kicked out of school. In efforts to stay in school I befriended one of the art professors, Jack Wolsky. He believed in Graffiti and he believed in me, which prevented me from getting expelled. In return he demanded I enroll in some art classes. From the moment I embraced Graffiti I knew it was a powerful movement that made people feel uncomfortable and I liked that. But now I was in a new environment and it was time to expand. Exiled from New York with no trains, no mentor and the one Graff magazine in the world (IGT, by Phase II), I was forced to develop my own style.
Art history opened my mind and changed my perspective. I learned within this class that graffiti wasn’t the first art movement to challenge the establishment. When Impressionism first began it was outcaste, misunderstood and considered not to be art. This similarity between Graffiti and impressionism opened me up and gave me a greater understanding about art and its evolution. My passion for art in general had deepened and I was now open to be influenced by Surrealism and Modern art because now I understood the struggle that all artist undergo to express themselves.
Myself, because I am so abstract, meaning I’m always experimenting. As a teenager I was a big time thief and I do the same thing now as an artist, I borrow from other artists, I borrow from experiences from environments and reinterpret them and now they are my experiences, my expression… and then they are yours to interpret and expand upon. So my lettering style is its constantly changing as the people in my life and all the other things around me change.
What does graffiti bring to the public in the corporate cityscape
It brings life. I travel a lot to cities all over the world, and when I hit a somewhere with no graffiti, it just speaks of a closed society, as if it were under Marshall Law. There are graffiti artists everywhere, so when you can’t see any art in the streets, it brings home truths about the restrictive nature and suppression of the wider society. But when I go to places like LA, St Louis and certain parts of New York and I see graffiti – it’s alive and it’s well – you know there’s people out there willing to take a risk, people who are alive, and living it regardless of their circumstances. And that to me says a lot about the vibe and the frequency of what’s going on in that area – there’s rebels there; people who are compelled to do what they do, because they just can’t stop the flow.
But, you know, speaking of the corporate cityscape, Graffiti has become the guerilla in guerilla marketing. It’s been used as a template for marketing corporations in their urban advertising over the last 10 years. Advertisers have seen graffiti artists going out bombing and getting their names and their reputations up, and they see the parallel between that and branding, and then flipping that same concept and using it in ever more expansive ways to sell their products.
My journey through art takes me on a roller-coaster ride just like my life, but at the end of the day, I use my art, my process as a grounding tool and as a vehicle for my expression. I’ve used it and it’s used me in a lot of different ways – becoming an artist has sustained both my lifestyle and my sanity, so it’s been a twofold path that has served me in a lot of different ways. It’s been an escape, something to delve into and take me deeper. I think the beauty of it all is the potential to constantly expand on my artistic expression. I started as a graffiti writer, evolved into a painter…..I wrote a play last year for dance theatre called Graffiti Life: The Colour of my Soul, so the opportunities to advance and to grow as an artist are endless. In order to write that play I first had to delve into music, and within that, I started to realize that this was far more than beats, but a score, this is FOR something…..and from that evolved the play. For me, art is life, it’s the art of living with full expression.
Such a magical term – what is Concrete Alchemy and what’s the difference between Pose Two and Maxx Moses?
Pose Two is a graffiti writer that evolved out of New York who is known for his lettering style, the FX Crew, and travelling all over the world with graffiti and letter based forms. In 2005 and 2006, the year I moved to California, was when I started sensing an evolution. Even within Pose Two, I’d always had this desire to be different, even back in ’92 when I returned to painting graffiti, I had to really evaluate how I was going to make my mark, what with so many people out there writing, I had this desire to be stylistically different. I distinguished myself in my letter forms, and then I slowly realized that I was tired of just writing my name, and that I wanted to expand beyond that. Moving to California, I found that the environment was playing a major role in my artistic expression, and I wanted to find a way of defining that difference. Pose Two was all good on the letter based side, but I was becoming someone different – Mr Maxx Moses. Maxx comes from my admiration for the artist Peter Max, and the word ‘maximum’, while Moses represents freedom, so Maximum Freedom is Maxx Moses. The parallel with my art runs deep, because I was artistically free now, liberated from the confines of letter based forms. I had so much more to say to so many more people, so ‘Look at me now’, understand the style – This is still Pose Two, but with the extra dimension of Maxx Moses – you know who I am even though you don’t see the letters, but the iconic style still resonates though.
Does Concrete Alchemy open your art up to people who may instinctively shy away from letter based graffiti?
There’s so much fear generated around the letter forms, and in so many people’s minds it still has negative connotations of being gang related, illegal and threatening. You can take that same imagery and those same elements that you would have put into a piece and flip it into something totally different and abstract, and suddenly, it’s taken out of that context and people are stopping, thinking ‘Well, This is really interesting’ I don’t know if saying they feel comfortable is the best way to describe it, but they can connect with it. They look and they can see the graffiti roots, but it’s not graffiti – it’s something else…and the beauty is that it doesn’t have to be anything, it’s the deeper undefined connection that is so important.
Colour is very important. I was painting in the Bronx last week, and most of the cats down there were using two or three colours, while my piece had maybe fifteen, and people are so attracted to that. Colour has an effect on our human psyche – it makes people intrinsically feel good. It generates something within you, it’s a magnetizing force that lifts people’s spirits, and as an artist whose whole essence is about uplifting your spirit, colour is an essential element in doing that.
Does art become transcendental in the creation or in the finishing?
Both. Time and time again while I’m painting, I feel as though I’m working on my own being as I paint. Once it’s completed, my goal is that it has an effect on the people who get a chance to see it – that it transcends, that it uplifts and that it inspires all those who embrace it. So it’s a two part process – me engaging with the artwork and living this interaction with the piece and all the internal aspects of my being, and then having that dynamic expressed, to start its new life in the spirits of the audience.
How does street based art impact the human condition
The whole purpose and essence of graffiti and street art is to break down our conditioning. What is art, what is vandalism, what is beauty, and who determines these things. Each individual viewer has his take on what is what and it becomes a process of individualism even to engage with the art. It breaks down the barriers of conditioning and the imposed world view of a conditioned society. For example, ‘art’ is something that is traditionally viewed as being inside some building carrying a label and a price tag, and yet you have street art, which is just out there, with innumerable people doing it that may not have gone to school or been trained in any way beyond the burning desire to express. So it’s speaking to the human psyche and encouraging it to do whatever feels right, whatever you want to do, and that expression is free. All it takes is to do what you feel and express it, and in our society, that is not ‘considered normal’. Our human condition is trained in schools by having to raise your hand to ask a question, by your parents telling you what to do, by religions teaching you to fear God or you’ll be punished. So much of our identity is a conditioned response, and within street art and graffiti is an uncontrollable force that inspires you to do what you feel, placing outside society’s box, and I think that aspect alone creates a overwhelming fear in those in a position of authority.
Drawing, having conversations like this, reading, the environment, thought, other artists and my experiences. I like to take time and just draw, and even though what comes out of it may not be what I paint at the time, it’s a training ground for ideas to come through. Nature plays a huge role. I’m on my way to California this week, and I can’t wait to get back – there’s just so much natural beauty there. As much as I’m a city dude, I’m definitely a nature boy as well. I grew up going camping in the woods, and it gives my spirit the opportunity to breathe, there’s so much more visual landscape and my imagination expands twice as much as it does in the city. I wrote my play while I was in California – the ideas just flowed through me. I think we under-estimate nature, and while we all love city life because there’s so much to do, we can actually feel uncomfortable going out into nature which is of course the most natural environment for us. Me and Chor (Boogie) and a few other guys went out into the woods and ended up running around like 10 year olds, it was magical. You don’t have to have your guard up in nature, you can be yourself and THAT’s where expression flows and you become your true self
Are you a spiritual guy
I would love to be called a spiritual guy, and in the past, I think that was a very important thing for me to say, but right now, if I wanted to BE anything, it would simply be a happy person. If a joyous person living a prosperous life is considered spiritual, then that’s cool. You can be spiritual and broke and unhappy, so I don’t thing I want to ’be’ anything, just myself, fully expressed.
Where is the line between art and vandalism and does anyone have the right to draw it?
Well Picasso went to Africa and stole all their imagery, came back and started creating some fly ass shit. Artists steal from artists all the time, so is that vandalism or is it natural evolution. Then there’s the question of writing on people’s property, but you know, saying one piece is vandalism and another piece is art is just a bunch of bullshit. We were just in the Bronx doing this wall that the cats down there have been painting for 13 years, and the police roll up. I thought it was just going to be a routine stop, and the painters had verbal permission, but nothing on paper. So there we are, with ladders and scaffolding – the whole nine yards, and…..we get arrested! The police could have just asked us to pack it up, but no…they came at us like we were bank robbers with an unbelievably aggressive approach. I was letting kids who were just so excited about what we were doing fill in my piece. They were desperate to help in any way they could and I was like’ Here – paint, paint, paint – have some fun’.
We had all the communities out there enjoying the art, and the police came and shut that down??? What message are you sending? We weren’t out bombing, we were beautifying that neighborhood, adding to it, both visually and on a community level, and because there’s a technicality you close the whole thing down. Is your humanity so shut off that you can’t see that? ‘You don’t have this paper – you’re going to jail’. What does that say to the kids who were being creatively inspired? If people out there bombing are labeled vandals, then what am I? It’s disheartening to be giving everything you have and not be appreciated for it. The reality is that in this society, value is placed upon money, and a lot of writers have been giving their art away for free over the years, beautifying neighborhoods and somehow by being free, it can be seen as having no worth or as vandalism simply because there’s no price tag attached.
The line is what you feel good about. I don’t think there’s a universal line that has the ‘should and shouldn’t’ embedded into it – it’s how you as an artist feel within your own personal integrity. I’ve done numerous commercial projects, name the company and I’ve done them, and often I’m hired as a sign painter where they give me the artwork and I duplicate it, but the money is fantastic thank you very much. But then I reached a point that I was doing so much of the kind of work that my own expression was dissolving. One of the last projects I was commissioned for was for Toyota – a design for a fifth door, and I wasn’t feeling good about it at all. So I stopped and began to draw, and whatever came out came out. Having taken it back to my creative space, I was happy the result and so I submitted it, but I’d stopped caring about its acceptance. They loved it, we created it, and we ran with it. At this stage in my career, that’s where I want to be coming from. If you’re hiring me then you’re hiring Mr Maxx Moses and his expression for whatever your project happens to be, it’s going to be MY expression coming through
How important is impacting today’s youngsters
Vital. If you could see some of our projects, and see the inspiration these kids take from the freedom in my life and the freedom I represent you would be truly touched. They see someone who is not living the 9-5 treadmill, but creating every day, and what I do impacts people, makes them feel alive and magnetises them. Then they see other people around them in other positions in life, whose work doesn’t bring them the same joy, people who aren’t doing what they love doing every day, and it’s incredibly important to set the example to the youth of being all you can be and everything you dream of being while giving them a start in the skills it takes to make those dreams a living, breathing reality
What do you want people to take from your art
It’s up to them. People keep asking me what this or that means, and my answer is that I’ve done my job and now it’s on you to engage with it and embrace it. I want people to learn the language of art. It’s like learning any language, you have to learn the dialect – the pronunciations and enunciations, and I would love for people to learn how to understand the language of our art in the same spirit. Visual linguistics are a valuable tool, because I don’t paint literally, so you have to take your time, stand there and dissect it, enjoy it and let it flow through you – take a ride, take a journey and have some fun.
I just finished the huge Edgewood mural in Washington DC and I’m on my way to California to curate a show called Beauty and the Beast for Chor Boogie and Cope 2. My play is going to have its second run in February of 2010, so I’m rewriting the script for that. I’m doing a huge project in my home town of Yonkers, New York in October and then another vast project in Washington and then south for a project in Tijuana