For Magnus, a childhood spent training as a ballet dancer has informed his work in abstract painting. His expressive and exhaustive sweeping strokes reflect this with his powerful, yet elegant movements.
Artists have long been known to be both mentally and physically demanding in their practice. For German artist, Maximilian Magnus, physical expression is a significant part to producing his expansive and vivid abstract paintings. Using his whole body, Magnus’ powerful movements generate sweeping, energetic strokes that reflect his background in ballet dancing. Through the discipline and framework of practicing ballet as a child, Magnus instinctively transfers his athletic approach onto his paintings.
Gain an insight into the world of Maximilian Magnus. His interview is part of our collaboration with JACQUES, a new cutting-edge men’s performance line from New York.
“Every time I sell a piece, I acquire a piece from another artist. If I wouldn’t do this for myself, I would lose my momentum.”
Born and raised in the Bavarian countryside, Magnus comes from a family of artists. His sister, an actress, and his father, a scenic painter both informed and contributed to his education in art, theater, and dance. “I worked with my father, for six years and eventually took over his business. We even created our own school, the Academy of Scenic Painting and Arts, where I taught scenic painting,” he says. At the school, he and his father, along with the students produced work for theater productions around the world—many of which were for the prominent American stage director and playwright Robert Wilson. Following their working relationship, Magnus was invited to participate in Wilson’s summer artist residency at the Watermill Center in Long Island, New York. At the residency, he honed not only his aesthetic vision, but found a semblance to Wilson’s innovative creative process, particularly the importance of being rigorously precise. For Magnus, Wilson’s precise nature is marked by a specific occasion: after the two review a newly planted trees’ position in the garden, Wilson decides to move the tree by just two more inches. Magnus notes, “There is a space for this craziness of being precise. This gave me the allowance that my craziness has a space. For Bob [Wilson], it doesn’t matter if you create a beautiful brush stroke on a painting or plant a tree in a specific way, it’s one and the same. And I one hundred percent agree.”
Magnus admits his introduction to the art world was a unique one. Through Wilson, Magnus met Lisa de Kooning, the late painter Willem de Kooning’s daughter. “She always threw parties and benefits for artists,” he explains. “I met her at her garden party: she had a massive horse, a tiny horse, and a giant pig running around with a Kakaku bird and rabbits around a massage table!” After meeting her again in New York, de Kooning suggested Magnus be the first artist-in-residence at their studio. The invaluable opportunity to create work amongst great works of art by Willem de Kooning was a treasured experience for Magnus. Through de Kooning’s paintings and stories told by his daughter, he learned about the artist and his contemporaries—call it an unconventional sort of apprenticeship with the late artist. The opportunity also allowed him to be acquainted with leading art dealer Larry Gagosian at a very early stage in his career. Naive, but fully open, Magnus set the stage for himself and for the rest of his career through an unparalleled foundation and guidance by Robert Wilson and (indirectly) Willem de Kooning.
Driven and guided by his emotion, Magnus paints intuitively, without any major references; The memory of de Kooning’s strokes would be practiced in the artist’s mind creating a muscle memory. In a physical sense, one can also recognize that practicing elegant and strong ballet movements repeatedly as a child would carry onto his painting unintentionally and rather intuitively. This, too, can also can be related to an artist’s or athlete’s instinctual muscle memory—an active mind informing his active body is essential to Magnus’ creative process: “When you dance, you improvise and follow your emotions as you do with painting,” he explains. “Dancing takes you to a place where you haven’t been and this is what happens when I paint. If you would ask me to dance my life right now and capture my movement here on canvas, it will probably feel the same as my paintings.” To achieve his vast paintings, physical exhaustion is part of his process. He compares the exhaustion he endures when painting for hours on end to dancing. “Physical exhaustion is important and luckily my works are big enough to get me sweating. I come from large paintings: 25 meters to 16 meters. The bigger they are, the better, because you can get lost.”
“Physical exhaustion is important and luckily my works are big enough to get me sweating after painting.”
When Magnus takes time out from painting, he likes to run through Tiergarten, a vast public park in Berlin, or he escapes to one of Berlin’s many lakes to swim. As an avid admirer of classical architecture, he often runs past historical sites such as the Königskolonnaden and the Pergamon Museum—timeless sources of inspiration, for someone who trained in scenic painting. To Magnus, this physical ritual clears his mind to make room for his emotions and ideas to be transcribed, where he will continue to exercise his athletic mindset and expression in his paintings.
Thankful for his unconventional foundation that shaped and nurtured his vision and creative process, Magnus conceives his own practice of progressing forward while giving back: “I am highly grateful that I can move my life the way I want it,” he says. “I appreciate this, so I am able to give back to other artists. Every time I sell a piece, I acquire a piece from another artist. If I wouldn’t do this for myself, I would lose my momentum.”
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It’s been a pleasure to speak to artist Maximilian Magnus about the connection between creativity and physical expression. Magnus is currently working on a new project called Tree House. Having bought a house in the Bavarian countryside, he invites artists of all kinds for residencies and scientists among others to the space that will offer an art studio, horse stable, ceramic workshop, and gallery space. Additionally, some of Magnus’s paintings will be on show at Berlin-based gallery Anahita Contemporary from April 27.