The British act The Prodigy leaves an indelible impression and it’s mainly due to its frontperson, Maxim. Face paint, freaky lenses in his eyes, flying dreadlocks, gold grill, tattoos streaking visible parts of his body — Maxim dominates the stage with a menacing presence that cannot be ignored.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
That is Maxim’s performing persona. But with his family, in his secluded barn-conversion home, Maxim is a country gentleman with an impeccable taste in design and an unerring feel for textures, colors, and graphics. This side of his creativity has translated into Maxim becoming a multidisciplinary artist whose musical product sometimes informs, yet is entirely separate from, his visual. He has been creating paintings, multi-media collages, and sculptures for the last 20 years; his art has been featured on various home goods, such as bone china, and soon-to-be on candles, cushions, and wallpaper.
“In the UK, you’re expected to stick to one thing,” says Maxim from his home in the Essex region just east of London. “What you hear is, ‘You’re a musician. You’ve had Number 1 hits. Do you think you’re an artist as well? You can’t be that talented.'”
“It’s not like that in America,” he continues. “I know from experiences in the music industry, if you had a record deal, they would encourage you to have a publishing company. The entrepreneurial spirit is not taught here. So if you do many things, and you do them well, what’s wrong with that?”
Maxim’s forays into visual arts began after a trip to an art fair where he went looking for paintings for his house. Not impressed with what he saw, he thought he could do just as well, if not better, himself. He began by painting color washes, creating abstract pieces that caught the eye of anyone that came to his house, who commissioned similar ones for themselves.
During a trip to New York in the early 2000s, he was introduced to David Hochbaum. The celebrated artist showed Maxim techniques of printing images on film and transferring them with glue. Hochbaum tipped him off to copyright-free Dover Books, which feature images ranging from animals and insects to buildings and period images of people. From Dover Books’ images, Maxim developed series of paintings featuring butterflies and human skeleton hybrids armed with daggers, machetes, and samurai swords attacking insects.
“When I was younger, there was an advert on TV with this girl running through a cornfield with catching butterflies in a net,” Maxim remembers. “It gave me the idea of arming those butterflies so they cut themselves free out of the net. It’s an analogy for so many things: the weak being empowered and taking revenge on something which is attacking them, or the weak rising and slaying all the rich.”
While his work may have started one way, limitations and non-stop ideas push Maxim toward more creative approaches. Once he couldn’t source the film any longer, he manipulated paper by coating it in resin. Next, he started painting with watercolors, then acrylics, then spray paint, then charcoal. He ground charcoal down and mixed it with glue to give his work texture. That drove him into using foam, which he would then cut into shapes to create other textures. There is no item in the hardware store safe from his experiments or, for that matter, in his garden — leaves and grass have also been turned into artistic media.
With his sculptures Maxim takes a step further, tapping into technology to develop an idea into reality. “Technology has brought a certain freedom to art,” says Maxim. “I can’t physically make sculptures, but it’s a way for me to get my ideas out there and create them. My first sculpture started as a painting of the Statue of Liberty with six guns coming out of the arms called ‘Mother’s Milk.’ I found a guy who could carve it. It took nine months to get him to make it, and then I couldn’t get it mass-produced because of the soft material. As technology has changed in the last five, six years, I can describe the idea of what I want and have a friend who can make 3D images and get it 3D printed.”
Maxim has drawn upon technology for his NFTs, through a collaboration with WLS, a multidisciplinary artist whom he met through the Prodigy. The NFTs are part of a larger project called “Hope,” Maxim’s project with Dan Pearce, which went on exhibit spring of this year at 99 Projects in London. “Hope,” which was created during the pandemic and is a reflection of its time, features 50 limited edition sculptures in assorted hand-painted colors. The sculpture, modeled after Pearce’s 11-year-old son Jackson, wears a gas mask and is crouched on its knees, ready to pick up an apparent grenade with a heart in it. Each piece also contains a memory card with a four-track EP from Maxim. Additionally, the exhibition includes a short film featuring Jackson with a cameo from Maxim. Each sculpture has been donated to NHS Charities Together, YoungMinds (young people’s mental health charity), and Shelter (homeless charity).
“I used to be quite precious with my art,” says Maxim. “I didn’t think collaborating was the way to go. WLS is the first person I collaborated with because I know him really well. When I came up with the grenade idea, I was going to paint it, but I wanted him to create it as a digital image, so it looks like the heart is actually sitting inside the grenade. [Pearce] came with quite a few ideas, and I said, ‘Nah, it’s not working,’ which is just the way I am. We went back and forth for months. It rolled on slowly, but everything fit together like a jigsaw. Once we filmed it and watched it again, that’s when all the things which we’d touched on through the pandemic dawned on us.”
He continues, “One thing I’ve learned from music is, sometimes, you can’t do everything. So you work to your strengths. If you need to pull people in who can do things better than you, bring them in to make the project bigger and better.”