Thinkspace is pleased to present ‘Lost & Found,’ from Chicago based visual artist Max Sansing whose distinct aesthetic fuses the color-drenched dynamism of street art with the technical elegance of photorealism.
In anticipation of ‘Lost & Found,’ our interview with Max Sansing discusses the symbolism in his work, mentorship, and childhood nostalgia.
SH: For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your background?
MS: I’m from the south-side of Chicago and my work is portraiture-based but infused with heavy elements of design and symbolism pulling from my neighborhood culture, Afro- American culture, 80s-90s pop, comic book and graffiti. In my painting career I’ve been involved with the black mural movement of Chicago, the graffiti scene and the south-side black art scene, all of which has led to the work I’m currently producing.
SH: What is the inspiration behind this latest body of work for “Lost & Found”?
MS: Lost and found has been a titled I’ve used to describe a series of works I’ve been doing for years in which the subject or subject of the work are caught in a moment of great transition in their lives. I’ve had moments in my life where I believed I was at an all-time low and it became a flashpoint for change that made me who I am today. The key symbolism is just a totem of sorts to remind yourself that you have the power to find a door to a goal that may have been lost to you.
SH: What was the most challenging piece in the exhibition and why?
MS: Possibly Rapture, it speaks to the ideas of (my) childhood nostalgia and how we sometimes tend to romanticize it or even look upon it as a reason for one’s shortcomings. But in this piece, I wanted to show how quick all it could have been gone just by the trajectory of a bullet. While the bullet does speak to the crime in my neighborhood when I was young, it also speaks to the lost ideas and goals of a youth. Things you knew you were gonna do and shit you were gonna have. All this surrounded by the soundtrack of Anita Baker. Why her? Besides the obvious nod to the album title. Her music and other like it was the type of music played in our (black) homes in the 80-90s and it was the type of mainstream music that represented the idea of the black middle class and a lot of families struggles to stay there.
SH: What is your most and least favorite part of the creative process?
MS: My favorite honestly is the experimentation that comes after the portrait is done. It the moment to show what going on the subjects head or maybe the repression of the subjects spirit. Least favorite? These days maybe the portrait, while I love the practice, it’s a stop on the road to the greater work of art for me. Plus I’ve been painting them for 25 years. I find myself getting looser with my technique as I get older. Maybe that’s because concept is weighing more on the scales for me these days, who knows.
SH: Who are some of your creative influences?
MS: My father works still haunts me to this day, it has a soul to it that speaks to where I come from.
For the rest it’s been many but these days it’s a mix of my friends and or fellow artist. Calvin Jones (Chicago muralist), Charles White, Kara Walker, Jordan Nickel (Pose MSK), Amuse 126 and WAK Kevin A Williams.
SH: Your work demonstrates strength and command of color with bright strokes and bold lines. A bravery that eliminates preciousness of a really well-rendered portrait. Is there a deeper meaning behind the strokes of color on the portraits, or even how feathers punctate the area beneath one’s eye?
MS: Most of those colors and such are elements I pull from the sky during my favorite time of day which is the magic hour. The blues oranges and purples make me feel at ease after a long day. It’s like the earth saying “well done”. I love wrapping up my subjects in it to convey an emotion. The strokes of color under the eye are a form of game face for the world and a call back to the sports I played as youth and how we put extra eye block on to combat the anxiety of performing well. The feathers are a build on the eye block symbolism. Feathers have many meanings in indigenous cultures and I want them to mean fearlessness in these pieces.
SH: You work with programs that expand art opportunities to kids in underserved communities, could you share the impact the kids have had on you?
MS: Working with the youth was hard at first because I wasn’t that much older than them when I started. I taught for about 11yrs and as I got older I became less cynical about their nature and truly saw the importance of being a fixture to them. I’ve actually kind of taken a mentor role to all these younger artists in Chicago and I feel it’s helped me be more patient, it reminds me that I’m just a practitioner in a tradition and letting the youth step up is the natural order of the game.
SH: How would describe the power and importance of art / the arts in society to an alien who has just touched down on our planet?
MS: I’d tell an Alien that the arts are a way to document culture for future generations.
SH: We are in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s an unprecedented time, and it’s a weird time – What is your approach to life during this time? What is your favorite local spot to pick up some take out?
MS: I’m trying my best to be of purpose and not lose my head.
Damn, too many. Taurus Subs, Mary Taqueria and Kimski.
SH: If your work inspired a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream flavor, what would be the ingredients and the name of the pint?
MS: I’ll just go with my favorite Strawberry cheesecake, a traditional strawberry ice cream (portraiture) with the graham cracker swirl adding the hint of saltiness and texture — that would be the opposing colors and symbolism.