Maximillian Harrison has known since second grade that he was an artist. “I remember vividly I was drawing something with my friend,” said Maximillian. “I was trying to think of what to draw and I couldn’t think of anything. I feel like that was my first instance of creative block and from that point on I was trying to beat that.”
In the eighth grade, Maximillian turned his eyes to tattoo art, specifically American Traditional. A look that harkens back to sailors, American Traditional is recognized by two-dimensional images with thick outlines and saturated colors.
Then, at 16, Maximillian started to explore photography and videography. Years later on an intuitive whim, Maximillian enrolled at the Seattle Central Creative Academy to deepen his craft as a visual media artist.
How did you develop your style? What influences do you have?
Maximillian: I don’t draw or portray something, generally, [that’s] in a happy state. It’s not necessarily a reflection of how I’m feeling, because I’m definitely a goofy, not-so-serious person. But I catch myself coming up with ideas that fall more into the “dark” category for no particular reason.
When I sit down with a piece of paper, or if I’m planning a video, and think of ideas, nine out of 10 ideas that I come up with are going to be something that someone might consider negative or dark, or just generally fucked up. I’m still not sure why I gravitate towards that, honestly. Though, I feel like that general style came from tattoo art.
“There’s no backstory to it,” explained Maximillian of his “Cavern Siren” piece. “It’s a perfect example of my creative process. I pulled out a piece of paper, and I was like, ‘I want to draw something badass.’ I wanted it to be a woman. I wanted it to be a fantasy, and I just put a pencil to paper and didn’t have much of a plan.”
“It’s a good example of my manic and hectic creative process working in a way that I want it to work,” said Maximillian.
It’s not a manifestation of the deep, brooding, inner Maximilian?
Maximillian: I just like to do that stuff because it’s the coolest. It’s the stuff that feels right when I’m making it. It’s definitely not a reflection of my inner demons, because everybody’s got them, but I feel like I’m a pretty positive person. It’s kind of crazy to think about how if someone were to look at my art, and started to think about what kind of person I am, I feel like [they] would be so wrong, and so opposite.
Your interest in tattoo art started in the eighth grade. What initially drew you to tattoo art?
Maximillian: The first thing is, I thought it was cool. I didn’t really understand something being permanent and being on you for the rest of your life. That was honestly a very intriguing part of it. A piece of paper will eventually decompose, and you can just watch it decompose, but the permanence [of tattoos] really attracted me towards it.
For his “Untitled” piece, Maximillian declared, “I’m not trying to contribute to violence, but overall [this piece] definitely shows emotion and reflects the time. I feel like that’s really important.”
“I usually don’t draw something from that deeper place …” said Maximillian, referring to the subject matter and his uncharacteristic use of color. “I was just like, ‘fuck it, I’m gonna do something completely different,’ and threw down a bunch of yellow.” He said he “let it slide” because of the compelling nature of the painting.
You’re a fashionable man. How does your interest in fashion tie in with yourself as an artist?
Maximillian: I just have a love for both things, fashion and art. I definitely went back and forth between picking which one I thought I was going to pursue. As a more immature young man, I was very much like, “man, I want to make clothes. I want to be cool.” I wanted to be this fucking image, I don’t really even know what it was, but it was something that I was pursuing based on ego.
Eventually, I gave up on trying to pursue [what] my current idea, at the time, was of what I thought me pursuing fashion would be. I kind of just left it on the shelf for a while and started working on producing things that I liked and that I felt good about, without any intent for it to be put on clothes or anything like that.
Through design, I kind of got back into it. I developed a love for fashion in a way that was a lot less egotistical and shallow. So at this point in time, I’m definitely pursuing both ways … but doing that the way an artist would. Basically, taking the artist path, as opposed to some commercial or corporate type of business, or something like that.
“This was just another random picture that I had taken that I didn’t quite like,” said Maximillian, referring to his “Amy Ghost 2” piece. “Then I ended up doing a ghost kind of glass sphere thing. I guess it just kind of happened … It almost felt like I wasn’t even in control of it … It’s just another instance of letting stuff just pour out of me, and whatever ends up on the screen becomes my final piece.”
Maximillian explained how the ghostly outline was made from fiddling with a photo in photoshop, and how the red orbs were originally candles. He also ironed this piece onto a black shirt, an example of the type of fashion pieces Maximillian likes to make.
Have you had any epiphanies recently about your art?
Maxamillian: A good place to start with answering that question is a book that we have assigned for Manny’s class: “Turning Pro.” When I first started reading that I accidentally read really far into it, as opposed to just a little bit that she had assigned. It was a slap in the face.
Honestly, I knew that I could be taking certain aspects of the work I need to do more seriously, just in general being more professional about it, but the way that book talks about prioritizing your time, literally sacrificing other things that you love in life to “go pro” was such a hard slap in the face. I can see how the little decisions that I make throughout my day all add up. I’ve been thinking about that in regards to literally every second of my day. It’s kind of overwhelming.
[“Turning Pro”] has really helped me see where I’m lacking, change that, and change my habits. If I’m gonna do this, and I really feel how I feel inside about doing this for the rest of my life, then I need to be dead serious about this shit.
Before the horns and feathers were added, this portrait was originally a photo of a relaxed woman with her hands intertwined. Maximillian, however, felt that it didn’t reflect his style. “It doesn’t feel like the art that I make. I [wasn’t] making something because I wanted to make something. I felt like I was missing an opportunity to do that. So, I kind of took it a lot further, and I’m very glad that I did” said Maximillian.
What else do you plan to do in the future with your art?
Maximillian: It’s kind of a little bit of everything that I want to try, but I also want to make sure that it’s balanced enough. I can’t help that I want to be the best at something and I feel like those two things don’t quite go hand-in-hand. You can really focus on one thing and hold on to it or go across the board. I’m always a little back and forth on that.
Starting out from when I graduate, I’m definitely going to be pursuing some kind of boilerplate commercial work to pay the bills. I think that’s gonna fall generally in the photography category because there’s a lot of work in e-commerce and random product photography.
A bigger picture than that, though, is I really want to release a motion picture. Not filmed for another company or something like that; I want to release something that is my baby. Something that I had a hand in from the start. Something that I created. I mean, I’m definitely gonna spend plenty of my career working on other people’s movies and stuff, but ultimately I want to release something that’s my own. That’s probably not going to [happen] for another 10, 15, 20, maybe 30 years. I feel like my standards are too high for me to really release any work right now. So it’s gonna take me however many more years to get to that point.
I would really love for my art pieces on paper, and paintings, and stuff, to be in a gallery or do a show or something like that. I think the first milestone for any of that is just to sell my art, but not because I want to make a bunch of money off of it.
Maximillian composed this piece in Photoshop from an original photo he took. The bowel-looking shapes in the person’s mouth spell “Soulless,” Maximillian’s clothing brand.
If you would like to see more of Maximillian’s work, check out his Instagram.
ARTSPACE is a weekly column highlighting local artists from Seattle Central. If you would like to be featured in this column, or if you would like to nominate someone, please email Harlow at email@example.com We would also like to diversify our column to include apparel design, writing, and many other forms of art from all skill levels, so if you are interested, don’t hesitate to reach out.