Max Kauffman’s name invokes brilliant social commentators. His demeanor is dryly biting comedy, and his artwork, especially his paintings, serve as other-dimensional windows, as if they are personalized Rorschach tests for each individual viewer. Nary a human presence exists. Of his artistic space he says, “I think of it as a world where people aren’t around.” Inside this world—the soft, colorful swirls of greens, pinks and blues—the post apocalyptic and the hope of salvation reside.
The present (society, culture, art) has become synonymous with technology, brevity, convenience, precision, cruelty: an exponentially increasing madness with a seemingly inevitable grim date with destiny…but, as Kauffman sees it, merely energy transfer. People may not exist traditionally in his visions, but their remnants and pollution certainly do. In Let’s Try This Again, an iris-less, round faced caricature occupies the foreground among billowing smoke generated by abstract factories, yet in “his” hand, a glowing tree reminiscent of a certain burning bush. Destruction, but as the forest burns to allow new growth, so Kauffman sees our future. It will burn, as all things eventually do, but what comes after, beauty…hope.
Perhaps this is why in our current recession, Kauffman finds he is more successful than he was before. He describes his experience at shows when people see his work, where they either glance and move on or get caught and spend a while staring. “It calms people, puts them in that ‘good place.’” He mimes one of them taking a breath, “I’m okay, you’re okay, the world’s okay. You don’t stop worrying, but it takes the weight off.”
Kauffman is a clinic in presence awareness and ego dissolution. He is the maestro, the conduit of the eternal, the mediator pulling “concrete” emotions and putting them into wispy, even ghostly semi-focus…and where some will use the severe clarity of a pencil or fine bristle acrylics, Kauffman prefers water colors. “I get more control with them than anything else.” This seems anathema to the idea of control when we think back to the sloppy adventures of being kids in grade school, but as Kauffman will be the first to explain, his visions are dreamlike, flowing, where things fade in and out with an almost teasing refusal to take form. Wholly, they nearly defy description, nouns dance on the mind’s edge while gazing upon them…except for birds. When asked, Max laughs at the cheesiness of his own response, “I get my point across best with them. They represent nature, pure spirits.”
In Blinding Clarity, a brilliantly bright owl floats in the center, its body and wings painted with clear definition, but its head, exploding with color and gazing at you with three eyes (one at the pineal “third eye” location) holds the attention with striking rapture. It serves as the central theme in Kauffman’s work, the moment of clarity, bliss, the magic moment, when the newness of dawn washes the darkness away—coming back to his most poignant question… “How much can you do with hope?”
See some of Max’s paintings at the Gildar Gallery Inaugural Exhibition vol 2 March 2nd–16th
Words: Elliot Riis
As seen in THE PARTY Issue, 303 Magazine December 2011