Cultures Visual Arts

Ruskin Artist Spotlight: Hugo Max

There is a wonderful moment of behind-the-scenes footage from the making of Bong Joon Ho’s fourth feature film Mother which shows the director dancing behind the camera while filming the surreal opening title sequence. He is not only directing actress Kim Hye-ja, who dances dreamily before the lens, but is consciously sharing his creative energy with her. This spirit of communication and generosity which director Bong reveals in his work – towards one’s collaborators, inner creative desires and audience – is integral to my artistic practice. 

I began making short films and stop-motion animations on a Flip camera (the Super 8 of the 21st century) aged 7. My little films, drawings and short stories were prompted by the gothic literature and cinema I feasted on, resulting in what would become a long-running fascination with the darker corners of the human psyche. In 2013 I started uploading new work onto my YouTube Channel, Timepiece Pictures, where I have since released 110 films, several of which feature my musical friends, notably The Toasty Plumber, Slimy Black Lettuce and I Left You Here Somewhere. I am particularly interested in the raw creative energy these collaborations generate. One of my favourite filmmakers is Nicolas Roeg, known for his films featuring musical performers rather than actors: Mick Jagger in Performance, David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth and Art Garfunkel in Bad Timing. Roeg’s observant cinematography and visionary attitude to temporality in the edit shaped an oeuvre of films that are empathetically human and also mysteriously unknowable; I identify these qualities in written form in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, a book I refer to constantly while working.A weathered 35mm print of Kurosawa’s Rashomon at the Prince Charles Cinema began my endless journey into the stirring and poetically bittersweet world of Asian cinema: sentiments which pervade works of realism, notably films by Ozu, and popular if provocative genre films by auteurs including Suzuki and Park Chan-Wook.

There is nothing more personal or cathartic than painting. A process that addresses endless questions on purely visual terms, it is concerned with a truth less explicit and more mystical than the written word. I have always been attracted to the bravely destructive work of the ‘School of London’ painters, aflame with the psychological rigour of the act of painting, and my current studio process revolves around working on several canvases at once, scraping paint from one to another with a palette knife; destruction as a form of creation. The theatrical nature of my art is greatly inspired by my love of the theatre (recurrent family trips to Pinter plays), opera (a life-changing visit to Bayreuth to see Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde) as well as the texturally explorative, disturbing and graphically comic paintings of David Lynch (viewed in Maastricht at his 2018 exhibition Someone Is In My House). I distilled my focus on love, religion, indulgence and guilt in The Stanley Series, a volume of eight tragicomic mixed media paintings I published last year which altogether illustrate the parallel between viewing art in an exhibition and the cinematic experience.

Stanley Has Lost His Lungs from ‘The Stanley Series’
Mixed media on wooden board
93 x 73 cm

The joy of discovering and sharing music with friends, particularly Haydn and Schoenberg’s String Quartets, fuelled my musical education. Chamber music taught me about storytelling and how to listen, concentrate and communicate. I am also intrigued by jazz and free-improvisation, introduced to me by two inspiring composition mentors who positively challenged my classically-trained upbringing. However, Bach’s solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas remain a prime influence and I have learned so much both from playing them and from a compositional standpoint. A lot of the music I write is for solo or reduced string forces, exploring the tensions and mysteries of this sound world; telling stories involves unearthing mysteries to get closer to hidden truths. I believe that the power of storytelling can bring people together and it is thrilling to be in an environment where people are so enthusiastic to collaborate, share and engage with art, while at the same time honing the themes in my own work through a celebration of research and exploration. 

Hugo’s new short film BURN THE WITCH and recent viola improvisations, all filmed on location in Oxford during Michaelmas term, are available to watch from his YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/user/MontiandMe/featured

THE STANLEY SERIES is available from blurb https://www.blurb.co.uk/b/10168410-the-stanley-series or privately [email protected] 

Image Source: Hugo Max (Title: ‘Stanley Lost his Lungs)