Maxwell Holden

About Maxwell Holden, Morean Center for Clay, Artist in Residence

Maxwell Holden, who has an academic background in religious and folkloric studies, utilizes ceramic pots as a ground to illustrate narratives that find their foundation in provincial fables. Inspired by the detail-rich Art Nouveau worlds of Danish illustrator Kay Nielson and the cognitive complexity of British artist Grayson Perry’s contemporary ceramics, Holden produces dense, tactile scenes of activity and expressive interaction between figures situation consistently shifting environments.

Holden does not set out to work with a complete illustration or a complete ceramic form in mind. What he draws (by incising the image before the pot is fired and later applying clay slip) is informed in part by the pot’s shape and size, just as the pot itself is formed with the idea that it will function as a base for an illustration.

The large handmade vessels, ranging from a few feet in circumference and height to as tall as a typical gallery visitor, encourage circumambulation in order to view the work in full. The viewer’s cyclical perspective causes a destabilization of the illustration’s narrative -attempting to identify the logical sequential order of the scene’s events becomes a repetitive and futile effort. This ambiguity is pushed further by the artist’s use of varying perspectival scale and settings that blur together, preventing the viewer from distinguishing the beginning of one section of the narrative from the end of another. By subverting the expectation of the cohesive structure, Holden aims to return the viewer’s perceptual experience to a childlike state in which anxious anticipation and routine have not yet been established and the capacity to experience surprise and wonder still exist.

The artist is also interested by the way in which folktales are predicated on passing an anecdote from one person to another to build a collective, disjointed whole, as well as a perspectival shifts that occur with every retelling. This manifest in the subjective and montage-like quality of his illustrations. In his multi-lateral representations, no viewpoint is granted a higher priority than another and no scene is entirely independent from the larger narrative to which it contributes.