Artist Interview: Max Gimson

By Katharina Wenzel-Vollenbroich
Artist Interview: Max Gimson Artist Interview: Max Gimson

Talk us through a day in the life of Max Gimson…

Yesterday I woke up quite early from a strange dream, I made some quick notes about it on my phone: 

"Tents that submerge and go under one another. Leave light on when out to convince intruders you're in. Long grey snake about to bite child. Pushing someone in wheelchair.”

I sat up in bed and put Nigel Slater’s food program on about the Middle East and let myself come to with a cup of coffee. 

I got ready, left the house about 10ish and walked to university where my studio is. Along the way I realised I’d put my earphones in without turning on the music but then left it as I wasn’t really in the mood. 

When I got to the studio I dumped my bag under my desk and pulled the chair out to sit and look at what mess I’d made the day before; there was one large painting that I’d been quite aggressive with in terms of marks and paint application and a few small pieces propped up along the wall underneath in various stages of completion.

I was in a less energetic frame of mind so squirted out a bit of my more expensive paints and started working on the large painting in a much slower, more controlled way to develop passages in the work with a different sense of time. 

My thoughts tend not to be conceptual when I’m physically painting, it’s mainly quite immediate and sensory, if things start to zoom out too far I’ll think myself out of it or I’ll get into the frame of mind that it’s all nonsense, or that it’s just a commodity item, so I try to keep focussed in the moment. 

Hours go by, I might have a bit of lunch but it’s only when it reaches about 6 o’clock that I realise how long I’ve been working and at this point the day can go one of a few ways, the temptation to go to the pub or to convince people to have a few cans in the studio is quite strong, it depends on money though, so cleaning my brushes and walking home is usually what happens, which is what happened yesterday.

I get home, have a bite to eat and then read for a while or try to find some weird sci-fi or horror film to watch, then try to sleep.

What was it on your foundation degree that made you switch from illustration to fine art?

We got the opportunity to visit the Tate Modern on a college trip and I remember walking in to the Rothko room and feeling like the floor had been pulled away, it was a real punch in the stomach moment as leading up to that I felt like I was just dossing about choosing to study art. None of my family or friends were artists so it was all unknown but that experience showed me how much impact it can have, on a level that can’t really be put in to words.

In terms of actually switching to fine art painting I think it was just a natural progression, I was good at mark making and handling messy materials, and it felt like a solitary frame of mind to work in that didn’t rely on anyone, which suited me. It also felt like it didn’t make sense, I didn’t have the context for what I was doing so it felt like I was taking a risk, which seemed attractive.  


There seems to be a real tactility within your works, that connection of extremities, disembodied almost, with everyday surfaces. For me, it feels almost haunting, painful even. Is there a reason why your works on Artpiq only allow the viewer to view hands and feet?

Those selected paintings were made when I was living in my studio with a lot of free time.

I got in to lucid dreaming, or at least trying to lucid dream. One of the triggers you teach yourself to be able to become conscious in dreams is to count the fingers on your hands each time you enter a different room in your normal life, the point being that if you do it enough and think about it enough it will occur in a dream. Then when you are dreaming and you count the fingers on your hands and they’re blurry or there’s too many or not enough, you become aware and can then potentially manipulate the events.

The tricky part is staying in the dream though, because when you realise you’re dreaming it’s usually a shock, which wakes you up. It takes a lot of practice and I think I managed it maybe twice. 

I liked the level of self observation and wanted to have that in the paintings in some way, the idea that when you look down you don’t see your face or your image, you believe that these hands and feet are yours but you are detached, looking in on it. 


We’ve heard that you’re influenced by ghosts. Are you a believer in the supernatural, or are you interested in what ghosts represent culturally?

I feel I want to believe in ghosts, and people seem to find it a bit disappointing when you say you don’t, but I don’t; the scariest thought for me isn’t that there might be an evil malignant spirit dwelling somewhere, it’s that you can work yourself up into such a psychological state as to believe there is.

I used to watch Britian’s most haunted a lot growing up which always left me a bit on edge, I’d walk out into the hall to go to bed and feel this creeping sense of something behind me so I’d run and jump under the covers but it was clearly psychological.

My mum used to do tarot cards and occasionally read mine a few years ago, we also had mediums come over to burn herbs and cast spells in the rooms in our house at one point because my mum found the family photographs knocked on to the floor one day, so it’s not like I was never presented with holistic approaches to seeing the world but I believe more in the absurd. 

I think people and places have an energy to them that we pick upon, you can walk in to a room and feel uncomfortable but that could be for all sorts of reasons; the light, the smell, the sound, your own life experiences altering your perception of things. Again it’s in your head, not to say those aspects of life can’t be utterly terrifying or weird.


What was the last book you read that changed your perspective?

I was late to read JG Ballard, everyone said his books are great and I think it put me off for a while. I read his book “Crash” at a time when I was spending a lot of time driving to work and back last summer and it put an interesting light on things.


If you wasn’t an artist, what would you be?

I’d probably be making music I think or doing carpentry or cookery. Which are all things I sort of do now anyway, the focus would just shift to one of them.


How do you feel about the commercialisation of contemporary art?

Art sells for money, galleries show artists that make money, you have to be financially privileged to study an art degree in this country so it ends up being the middle class talking to itself. What post contemporary art will look like I don’t know but it’s got to reach a point, like The Blob, howevercapitalism will manoeuvre and swallow whatever trends or movements occur.

Perhaps truly interesting or revolutionary actions will happen in social activities that haven’t yet been discovered, that are not art.


Apart from creating art, what makes you get out of the bed in a morning?

I have mild insomnia so that usually wakes me up.

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Artist Interview: Max Gimson Artist Interview: Max Gimson

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