Interview: Artist and Curator Max Presneill

Max Presneill, Photo credit Baha Danesh, all rights reserved 2014

Max Presneill at Garboushian Gallery, Photo credit Baha Danesh, all rights reserved 2014

Interview: Artist and Curator Max Presneill

Interview by Genie Davis

 

Max Presneill is a potent force in art, both as a curator and an artist. LA-based, he exhibits both nationally and internationally. In an interview for Art & Cake, Presneill tells me about his art and his dedication to the art community.

Presneill’s drive to be a curator began with an invitation to curate a show in England. “As an exhibiting artist, showing regularly, I had only been on the other side of the rope and the chance to see the view from the curation side was very appealing. It was an interesting experience so I did a few more and found the process fascinating. That led to co-forming an artists group, BLOC, in Sheffield with two other artists and curating exhibitions. Eventually, when I moved to California, I opened Raid Projects which meant curating three shows every month. At the Brewery location we had three exhibition spaces, which meant an opening night every first Saturday of the month. I did that for 10 years. An exciting period but very draining. I was fortunate enough to have that time – working with so many talented artists and making a lot of friends. As I have maintained my studio practice and exhibiting schedule during all of this I found it a mostly wonderful balance.”

 

"Grafforists" Torrance Art Museum 2016, Photo credit Kristine Schomaker, all rights reserved

“Grafforists” Torrance Art Museum 2016, Photo credit Kristine Schomaker, all rights reserved

 

Presneill is now the director and curator at the Torrance Art Museum, a position he took on in 2009. “I was working as the director of Mark Moore Gallery, and was feeling a bit closed in by the commercial art world and missing the curatorial aspect, as I had withdrawn from Raid Projects in 2008. I applied and was offered the job at TAM, so much for my vacation from curating,” he says.

September 3rd TAM will be opening of The Gildless Age, a look at the political and social aspects of the present corresponding to the 1880s. His most recent previous curation at TAM, Grafforists was about the artist’s hand, “the performative act of painting and the remnants of self, as an awareness or own’s own mortality,” according to Presneill. “The Gildless Age makes the case that economic, social, and political situations are cyclic, and that we still see the class war of monetary greed in how society self-harms.”

TAM is hardly Presneill’s only curatorial effort this year. “I am involved in setting up a series of international exchange projects with Durden & Ray, which I founded in 2009, which will bring artists to our downtown LA space as well as take LA artists to various countries in curated and themed shows run by small groups of D&R members.” Presneill says that presently exchanges are booked with spaces in Melbourne, Australia, Holland, in Oslo, Norway, and one in Mexico. We have done these in London, New York, Tokyo, Berlin and other places recently and shall continue with these. There are a couple of one-off curatorial projects in the making, too.”

 

MAS Attack San Diego 2016, Photo credit Kristine Schomaker, all rights reserved

MAS Attack San Diego 2016, Photo credit Kristine Schomaker, all rights reserved

MAS Attack San Diego 2016, Photo credit Kristine Schomaker, all rights reserved

MAS Attack San Diego 2016, Photo credit Kristine Schomaker, all rights reserved

 

Never idle, Presneill is also the driving force behind MAS Attack, a series of art events for artists outside of any commercial aspect. “I started the project with Colton Stenke, when we formed Artra Curatorial in 2009. Following a very admiring and supportive Facebook exchange between Mark Dutcher and myself about our respective paintings, Colton and I decided to put together an event that would invite some painters to show together so they would see their community, meet each other – it always surprises me that everyone I know do not all know each other! – in an informal and supportive environment, where nothing was for sale, no special effort to privilege collectors and gallerists was made. and where the artists were asked to nominate another artist to join our party and show. Jason Ramos, of ESX, joined the team too.”

The result was a rousing success, and the events continued, creating artist awareness and friendships in LA, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, and San Diego. “Now, after 12 of these things, we feel that it has served its purpose. Jason left to focus on other projects and Kio Griffith joined us. Many friendships were discovered by those that took part, opportunities and connections arose, and have led to other things for many artists. We wanted to finish the series on top and so November 12th at TAM will be it. We hope that everyone comes out in support.”

Presneill says there will be different types of projects in the future for the Artra Curatorial team, Colton Stenke, Kio Griffith and myself – you will just have to wait and see what they are. I would request that anyone that has, or has a connection with someone, that has a 4000+ foot empty space or office block should let us know,” he smiles. “We have an idea, you see.”

 

Max Presneill, Photo credit Baha Danesh, all rights reserved 2014

Max Presneill at Garboushian Gallery, Photo credit Baha Danesh, all rights reserved 2014

Max Presneill, Photo credit Baha Danesh, all rights reserved 2014

Max Presneill at Garboushian Gallery, Photo credit Baha Danesh, all rights reserved 2014

As to Presneill’s own art, while his thematic elements have remained consistent, his motifs and techniques have evolved over the years. “My paintings have always been about mortality. They have veered between abstract and figurative over the years, depending on my needs as an artist. Over the last few years I have concentrated on developing a set of motifs around a performative aspect of painting that echoes the ideas of graffiti as an act of presence that can be political. Ten year ago I would have dealt with this via a reference to historical precedents and by updating and mutating them to include the personal. Now I am focused on the moments of applying the paint in what can be described as abstract, but could also be discussed in terms of the literal, as they are what they seem to be – marks left by an action.”

His works are bold, vital, dream like. What does Presneill most want viewers to experience from these very lush and visceral pieces? “I would love it, although not necessarily expect it, that a viewer would ask difficult philosophical questions, particularly about the political ramifications and possibilities within the system of languages we call painting. Where does power, oppression, dominance, hold within them? It would also be important to me that the audience consider their own ages, lives, memories and future – in relationship to thinking about their own mortality. What is important, what should I do, knowing my life is limited?” he asks. “Although the themes are often serious and perhaps morbid to some, I see them as celebratory. Take action! Make the most of things. Go loudly into the night! That is why I use a strong, bold color palette with an energized gesture and often garish combinations. I want the viewer to be revitalized in their realization of these things.”

These elements of mortality have long fascinated Presneill. “Since I was very young I have found the idea of the limitations of life-spans fascinating. What have we learned, what do we know? I asked this of ‘older’ people all the time. When I started studying for the PhD, it was around these kinds of ideas. I have felt that time was running out, that it can pass you by, like Rumpelstiltskin, if we did not pay attention. It is why I have filled my life with as many adventures as I could.”

 

Max Presneill at Garboushian Gallery, Photo credit Baha Danesh, all rights reserved 2014

Max Presneill at Garboushian Gallery, Photo credit Baha Danesh, all rights reserved 2014

 

Is this work his legacy? “I don’t know about that. There is, for all artists, a need to say something, to leave a mark. For me, the asking of certain questions and the seeking of possible responses through painting and curating has been worth a lifetime. If I leave anything behind me it will be some canvases with questions on them, and more importantly, a memory with some people, of having tried to make things better, to be helpful, to have pushed the discussion along a little bit. I can be an asshole, as I am opinionated and impatient, but I hope that I have in some small way contributed to the LA art scene in ways that have improved it.”

Presneill’s future artistic plans include “to keep asking rigorous questions of myself and others. I hope to expand my audience by showing more and further afield. I have been very fortunate in having shown around the world, but like all artists, nothing is ever enough.”

The artist’s drive and passion for art began early. “I could draw as a child and through high school was recognized for it. Starting by drawing comic book characters, I kept at it, but never took it seriously until some complications and personal events in my private life brought art to the fore as a means of having a more rewarding inner mental life. I was involved in many things, in music and such before I went back to get my BFA, after beginning to take the potential for being an artist seriously. An MFA and PGCE later I started teaching at universities and showing regularly, and then broke into curating by chance.”

A true supporter of the artistic community, Presneill says there are too many artists and curators working today whom he admires to mention. “I try and learn something valuable from all artworks I see and every exhibition I visit, even if I dislike it or think it trivial. Take something positive from everything and incorporate the best into your own toolbox – a brush stroke here, a way of installing there.”

 

Photo courtesy Max Presneill, all rights reserved

Photo courtesy Max Presneill, all rights reserved

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