In planning the publication of the Maxim monograph, Stages, of several years ago, it was decided to exclude the artist's homoerotic works. This was regrettable since John Bullard acknowledged in that text that the erotic can often serve as an occasional fountainhead—energizing creative impulses in an artist's oeuvre overall. Besides that, the point should be made that while the erotic sculptures relate to his figure drawings, they differ remarkably from his mixed-media figures. And viewing the work in this reversal of style can extend our understanding of the range of Maxim's viewpoint(s) as a post-modernist. This small volume attempts to correct the previous omission of this area of Maxim's oeuvre by presenting a selection of sculptural works from 2001 and 2003 not seen before.
A 2004 exhibition in Maxim's San Francisco studio was titled, Sex and Muscles. The mixed media figures for which Maxim is known were completely absent from this show. Instead, his terra cottas and drawings of nude muscular men presented the erotic far more directly in clay than his mixed-media works did. As his background knowledge of western art history is often apparent in Maxim's work, the clay men are clear demonstrations of influence from classical prototypes including ancient Greek, Roman, and Renaissance examples. Maxim studied eighteenth century works in clay as well, especially those by the French Rococo artist, Clodion.
The clay figures were executed in two furious waves of activity. Thirty-one were modeled in 2001, and nineteen in 2003, for a total of 50 in all. (Oddly, for an artist who keeps careful inventory records of his works some of the figures were never photographed and there is no mention of titles nor dimensions for these pieces. Besides the sculptures that exist in complete form, there were a number broken during firing in the kiln. Some o these were saved and aregrouped here as fragments. As such, they still reverberate with the underlying classical aesthetic present in most of the terra cottas, only now they are more similar to much ancient statuary that has undergone the ravages of cultural shifts over time, and through that transformative process, the viewer benefits by an intensified conceptual reading of them.
Some of the compositions—that is the poses— for the figures were spontaneously arrived at while Maxim worked the wet clay, while others were based on drawings the artist made during group and solo drawing sessions with the models. Maxim asked muscular men to pose who were regulars at the gym Maxim attends. They would model for two hours in exchange for a drawing that resulted from the visit. The source drawings, and the resulting sculptures have a strong sense of identity and portrait-likeness that enliven qualities of sensual, real individuals. Maxim's philosophy of portraiture maintains that the whole figure including the person's comportment and carriage have nearly as much to do with the depiction of a person as the face in convincing a credible likeness.
Sometime after firing the works were painted, first in tempera watercolor, and later with oil paint. The decision to repaint in oil was because that medium is far more permanent with exposure to long-term light under which sculptures are likely to be exposed, and oil paint provides a surface sheen more similar to living flesh. Unlike the drawings, tattoos appear only very rarely in the terra cottas. While Maxim personally feels indifferent to tattoos of reasonable size and placement on the body, he finds that adornment a graphic distraction from the three-dimensional clarity of the human body.
Some of the works do not require bases for presentation, while others cannot stand alone.
Maxim depicts his standing figures as only the figure without additive material support. This artistic decision was based on ancient Greek prototypes in bronze that he so much admires. Unlike subsequent marble examples from the ancient world, bronze works did not necessarily require additive fill material for support. Similarly, Maxim opted for structural honesty and instead opted for metal armatures to support the little terra cottas.
Maxim was diagnosed and suffered through treatments for cancer during the brief and distinctive period of his erotic studio work. Doubtlessly, life's brevity and death weighed more heavily on his mind at that time, though he has said in more recent years that "There is a bit of death in all of my art." Indeed, one need only read the introduction to George Bataille's Eroticism, Death and Sensuality, to glimpse the range of human experience that conflates these two mysteries of human experience. Perhaps the homoerotic works played a psychically therapeutic role in Maxim's recovery, and perhaps dealing with the erotic in the studio was also a way of dealing with the closeness of death.