A Conversation with Max Adrian: 2017-2018 Artist in Residence
What made you become an artist?
I don’t really feel like I had much of a choice. It was always something I was doing and always something I wanted to do. I entertained other thoughts of what I wanted to do with my life. For a long time in high school, I wanted to be a journalist, but I was still taking all of the art classes, painting a lot in my free time, and doing lots of wacky visual art things. At the core of it, all was this passion for storytelling.
Is working with your hands a big part of visual storytelling?
Working with my hands is like working through ideas for me. And writing is still very important for me too, but almost more often I need to be doing something with my hands, making something, even just playing with something. I always need my hands to be active, and I think that played a big part in my choosing to be an artist and pursuing this lifestyle.
What are your inspirations or influences in your practice?
Performance is my main influence, lots of different kinds of performance. I would say drag queens, puppetry, and big theatrical productions of people assuming identities and performing these roles—that’s all really influential for me. Which might sound kind of funny because I’m not a performance artist. But the performance itself, the act of taking on a certain costume and assuming that role and living it is a constant thought in all of the work I do. I think I’m slowly working toward performance. There are performative things I am interested in incorporating into my work before too long.
Are you putting out a narrative of identity-based ideas? Is your work autobiographical?
For sure. Most artists see themselves as the conduit. Even talking about greater issues, we are the filter through which these topics are being considered. So in a sense, it’s kind of impossible to escape personal influences and a sense of autobiography even if it isn’t the main focus. And I don’t think that is my main focus, to talk explicitly about my own experiences, but I know that it’s there. It’s more about this overarching search for identity amidst the queer community, and that takes a lot of different forms, whether it’s the leather buddies that are chained together or an inflatable furry sexually suggestive critter. I think it’s this search for place and identity within a greater community that at times can still feel very foreign for me, but I have this strong pull toward being apart of it, and it is a community I’m proud to be a part of. So for me, it’s about finding my footing but in a way that I hope is pretty open-ended.
Where do you see your use of materials play into those ideas?
It’s all very playful, and most of the materials I use, want to be touched, and that reaction in itself has a lot of significance in talking about the queer community, a community that has been stigmatized for the way bodies are interacting. So touch is very important. How do you touch these certain things, and what even is this thing that I’m looking at, and how do I interact, relate, and potentially empathize with it? I think that’s what draws me to a lot of these tactile materials. Also, the materials are super suggestive of a drag queen’s costume, or a stripper’s costume, or just general performance, nightlife, sexual scenarios, leather dungeons and stuff. But then I’m trying to present these materials in a more removed context. Like referencing those settings outside of them in a way that makes them more approachable for people, because a lot of people wouldn’t be comfortable right off the bat to talk about leather dungeons, but a playful inflatable figure that looks a bit like a child’s toy is an easier way to get them into that door.
So are your pieces interactive or are they a more of a no-touch gallery piece?
I don’t think I’ve ever made anything that was exclusively hands off, and I don’t ever want to make anything that’s not allowed to be touched. Unless that was a part of it, but that’d be a very conscious decision to have it be something that couldn’t be touched. Sometimes it’s more obvious like I had a sign with a piece that was a ball covered in tassels, and I encouraged people to pick it up and play with it. Other times, I kind of know people will touch it anyway. I mean everyone touches art in galleries; they just try to be real sneaky about it. So a big furry sculpture, I know people are going to touch that, and I secretly want them to, and I’m interested in that secret act of touching. Having this playful furry form is a little bit of a reward, it’s like, “it’s okay, it’s okay to touch it.” So I’m curious about that line, and I want to keep exploring that line. Touch is always a thought.
Do you have a pivotal piece that is the foundation of your current work?
The Furry Divines. I haven’t really explored character so much before these, and I think I’m just realizing that “oh this is really what I want to be doing with my work.” In a sense, I’m combining character and a narrative with these materials. I think that I personally have a stronger connection with these works because I’m spending hours and hours and hours making them, and I’m seeing them as characters in my head while I’m spending all these hours making them, I’m giving them personalities, so they become much more like people, or living personalities than a lot of the other work that I’ve made, and that feels right, and I think that is where I want my work to keep going. To create objects that possess clear personality.
Are each of the Divines is a segment of yourself or are they compartmentalized into these pieces?
I think they are things most people can relate to. Luther is the Furry Divine of Questionable Head, and I think that most people can relate to making questionable decisions, and Jester is the Furry Divine of Cowardly Courtship, and that’s the idea of sheepishly courting someone or sheepishly trying to connect with someone but not having the courage to just jump into it. Solo will most likely be the Furry Divine of Fearsome Desires and I think many people can relate to being afraid of what they desire, even if they don’t want to look at it that way. So I think they are things I have experienced, and things that I see other people experiencing, and I try to have the Furry Divines become mascots of sorts that represent and celebrate these types of behavior that otherwise might be seen as somewhat shameful.
Right, more mascots of humanity.
Yeah, mascots trying to get some loving.
Do you have a guilty pleasure or secret hobby? Speaking of fearsome desires…
I watch a whole lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and all of the sub-online shows and stuff. I think I, maybe not so secretly, wish I were a drag queen in a lot of ways. Secret hobbies… not really. I like to play Pokemon…
What brought you to Arrowmont? What was your interest in this residency program and growing as an artist?
A lot of reasons. I was here last summer for a workshop and had such a wonderful experience, even though the workshop I took wasn’t directly related to my practice and isn’t something I’m actively using in my practice now. Just being here for a week and being surrounded by people was really recharging and I felt I was part of a community of artists from across a lot of backgrounds and ages. That really stayed with me, and as soon as I left that workshop, I knew I needed to come back here. So the community aspect was a really big reason why I wanted to come back. I’ve spent a lot of time alone in my studio over the past couple of years and thought it was time to try to find a marriage between being the solo artist locked away in a studio and being a part of a community, so I thought this would be a good chance to have that balance. But I also realize I still need to grow a lot in terms of communication skills, and I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to just practice communicating for a year. Getting up in front of everybody on Mondays during workshops to do our little 3-minute anxiety-ridden presentations, and doing Open Studios, and just eating meals with people and having my elevator speech down about what it is that I do. This has been really good practice for just learning to communicate.
How does Arrowmont play a role in community education and in supporting you as an artist?
One of the things I love about Arrowmont is all of the different ways you can be here. You can take a workshop and be here for a week or two and get the student perspective, or you can be one of the resident artists and be here for a year, you could be a local kid or adult and take a community class, you can be a work study and be here for a month or 2 months or more. There are so many different ways to be involved in Arrowmont, so that allows a lot of different kinds of people to come here and benefit from what Arrowmont has to offer, which is the instruction of a wide variety of craft processes, and participation within a strong community of makers. I think each of those different ways of being here has its own inherent advantages. Like for us, we have so many opportunities to grow and learn in the year that we’re here from working in the gallery to working on the development and being ambassadors for Arrowmont.
Do you think art and community go hand in hand?
It should. Especially now, when a lot of artists are uncertain of what role they’re supposed to be playing in such an uncertain world. I think as long as we’re creating community, we can’t go wrong.