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Bodybuilders and Embroidery: The Artwork of Max Colby (NSFW)

Bodybuilders and Embroidery: The Artwork of Max Colby (NSFW)

Meher Khan

icons.jpg

"Icons" No. 4, Detail

Max Colby has a handle on the ephemeral, with his fragile art straddling the line between creation and destruction (and requiring a lot of planning to not succumb to the latter). In his Icons series, he collages images from body builder mags and delicately punctures them with embroidery, giving beefcakes new embellishments, raising low art to high, and musing on gaze and gender and the value of craft all the while.

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"Icons" No. 3

Meher Khan: Tell us about your development as an artist. What skill did you focus on first (or was it more simultaneous)? Did one skill lead organically into another (e.g., drawing into printmaking)?

Max Colby: My fascination with and love for art started in the printmaking department of my high school. I was working mostly in collage and mixed media and the process allowed for a quick way in which to develop work while simultaneously producing a single idea into a full body of work. As my schooling went on at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, I developed a more conceptual and academic way of making my art which led to the use of mediums I was not formally trained in for the purpose of properly exploring an idea aesthetically.

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"Icons" No. 8, Detail

Meher: In as much or as little depth as you feel like: Tell us about your process!

Max: My process varies drastically, although there is generally a specific subject or topic I'm thinking about and challenging which leads to research and collection of materials. In my recent body, Icons, I first amassed a large collection of publications that focused on body builders and male models. Some are benign and some rather explicit. The benign are used in Icons and more explicit pornography is being utilized in a new, in-progress body of work. Two in particular are "The Male Figure" and "Physique Pictoral."

I was fascinated by the construction of gender and identity in these publications and, conversely, the community this construction was marketed and sold to. I collaged these images in the center of a substrate to emphasize the gaze. The final step was puncturing and eschewing the photographs through embroidery. These lush applications physically affected the photographs and image, thereby reconstituting the initial construct.

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"Icons" No. 3, Detail

Meher: What materials do you use in Icons and your other work, and what led you to use them?

Max: The work is made up of a base sheet of handmade paper (made by myself at Dieu Donne in NYC), photographic collages, and hand embroidery.

I've been working in all three mediums for years. Paper tends to enter all of my work, almost subconsciously—it is a process I'm very much in love with. I've used embroidery in past bodies of work, so it also came naturally. The symbolism of embroidery is quite profound to me. On the one hand, it traditionally acts as an embellishment most notably signifying culture, beauty, status and personality. On the other, it requires a physical alteration of material as the threads are laid in. On sculptural or photographic surfaces it tends to damage and puncture the surface, often requiring special planning and consideration. This physical reconstitution and puncturing is the most integral part of the work. 

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"Icons" No. 8, Detail

Meher: What place do labor-intensive art practices (that may even be rendered commercially obsolete by mechanized processes) have in the world and in your art?

Max: Craft and labor are very dynamic topics in the contemporary fine art and commercial fields. With the former, you see a large resurgence of their applications—typically used in challenging labor politics and identity politics. Commercially, they sit in a rigid cost-value system. They may be undermined or undervalued by labor from specific regions, or quite the opposite, valued very highly to the more discerning side of the market. I don't believe that craft or labor-intensive processes will ever leave the fine art and commercial fields; only their inflection will change. 

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"Icons" No. 1

Meher: What is the weirdest thing anyone has ever said about your art?

Max: I get all kinds of wild associations, especially with the embroidered works. The most common is a reminder of elders who practiced handicrafts, or bizarre associations with alien imagery and iconography. I'm sure there have been stranger things, but I can't for the life of me remember.

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