Artist Influencer: Max Presneill

Max Presneill. Courtesy of the artist

Artist Influencer: Max Presneill

By Sydney Walters

Max Presneill is a dynamic Los Angeles painter who epitomizes the artistic grind of trial and error by projecting complex nuances onto canvas. He engages with individual reckoning with the unknown and finds solace in community. He generously speaks about how his practice came to be and his best advice for hopeful artists.

Can you please tell us a bit about your artistic background? What peaked your interest about art making and did you explore other mediums before settling into painting?

My initial interest in art as a child was via copying drawings from comic books, like many other kids. I liked drawing but I cannot say I was obsessed with it really. It was more just a thing I liked doing, like riding my bike. I became more interested as I got older and began doing drawings of other things, and then skateboarding related images. I got some social kudos at school for the ability to draw things that reinforced my engagement with it, of course, so began painting around then, based on seeing a Dali exhibition that I went to.

Post high school I attended an art school, specializing in graphics, as I thought that might mean a job. My family was very working class and the idea of art as a profession was very far-fetched so I compromised by doing something that seemed like it might employ me eventually.

After being kicked out of that college (an unruly and degenerate student, I was not surprised!) I had a few years of adventures in travelling and music related escapades where my love for art intensified, with much practice, reading and visits to museums, I returned to education with a new and deeply committed relationship to art making. Originally I went to college as a sculptor, finishing my undergraduate degree, before I switched my attention increasingly towards painting. I then got my first (of 3) post-graduate degree, this time in painting.

Art making gave my life direction, I suppose. I suspect probably that an illegal life would have led me astray if not for art’s engrossing nature. It let my mind soar and the imagination run wild, full of a freedom that I wanted (like most people at that age). It dragged me, eventually, out of the poverty of my childhood into a world of possibilities and for that I am forever grateful.

This led to the beginning of an exhibiting career that has grown over the years, Today I show work about 20 times a year, from solo and group shows, to one-off projects and the occasional auction and I do so around the world, with much travel (which I LOVE!!). Over the last year and into next I have/will be showing in New York, London, Berlin, Rome, Brisbane, Stockholm, Reykjavik, Beijing, LA of course, and a couple of other cities.

Max Presneill. Courtesy of the artist

What have you picked up on that is unique about the art world in Los Angeles? What excites you most about this city?

Up to this point it is the open and supportive nature of the art scene that I like the most. We will see if this changes with the influx of artists from elsewhere, often from a somewhat less generous art culture, as well the increasing competition for places in shows.

A growing alternative/artist-run-space community keeps opportunities arising and a collaborative and engaged sub-culture that I love. Being at the center of this growth of a new and expanding importance in the global impact of LA art is fantastic fun. It is watching history being made at the best moments and the passing of an era at its most melancholic. All things must change and being here watching such a transition in action is fascinating.

I always wanted to be part of the art world, once I had dedicated myself to it, and being a part, even if a small cog in it, makes me very happy. Having opportunities to show is great and seeing people come to check it out and support my practice is a very special treat.

Basically, just being part of it all!

You work with a lot of concepts in you paintings, can you describe how you whittle your ideas down to settle on a composition both visually and conceptually?

Hard work. Trial and error. Lots of research and writing of notes, trying to understand how they might work, what they might imply.

It is important to me to feel conceptually grounded and to balance this with an intuitive compositional and gestural approach so that they reflect a more ‘authentic’ experiential reality. Experimenting on every canvas to learn something new EVERY time I enter the studio is difficult but necessary.

Trying to reconcile the multiple aspects that they represent for me, from political issues to personal and philosophic positions is a long process that requires a lot of time and investment and also a need to be flexible, break one’s own boxes of habit and allow for dichotomies to exist side by side – a difficult trick that I battle with constantly. I need to learn, repeatedly, to free myself enough to follow avenues of thought and processes that I might shy away from in the beginning – such as including figurative elements in abstract paintings, or as understanding them as less abstract than essentially literal artifacts of performative action.

What is your advice for people trying to make a living as an artist?

Work hard. Knowledge IS your friend. Don’t be a dick to people. Turn up, make it easy to work with you, be generous to others, support other people’s practice and exhibitions. Be present! Do other non-art jobs too, if you have to. Nothing wrong with making a living. Make your own networks and build them – you never know how someone might give you a leg up the career ladder down the line as well as act as your support through difficult times. Remember that the making of art is NOT the business of art and the art market does NOT define you or the quality of what you make. Learn to avoid the post-show blues, selfish people and bad gallerists. Have fun. Do not become the bitter, twisted artist of thwarted ambitions – they are ugly inside and out. Take your art seriously but not yourself. Be kind to others on the way up. Find a hobby that allows you to let off steam and forget art from time to time – mental health is important to be able to keep at this for the rest of your life. It is not a sprint but a marathon and artists don’t retire, we die. for more information


  1. Thank you for a great interview Sydney and Max. Loved the part at the end about not being a Dick. that is really important. Not kidding. all my best, Ann Weber

  2. I really enjoyed learning about Max Presneill’s work and practice. Loved his advice about being kind and also the reminder that being an artist is a marathon and not a sprint. So true. Thanks!

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