Artist Interview: Max-o-matic

July 01 2016

Cooper: Born in Buenos Aires you currently reside in Barcelona. How much longer will this be your home, is there a place you would rather live? Why did you decide to leave Argentina?

Máximo Tuja aka Max-o-matic: Buenos Aires in 2001 was not the most friendly place on earth to live in - social and economic crash, violence and not many opportunities. In that context Barcelona seemed a nice place to start a new adventure.

Since early 2002 I’ve been living here and working as a designer and illustrator in this beautiful city, and I can see myself living here for a long time. I´m not good at making long term plans, so I never know what I will be doing in ten years, but Barcelona right now (and for the last twelve years) is the place in the world that I want to live in.

How would you describe the life of an artist living and working in Barcelona?

Barcelona has a lot of art stuff happening all the time. It´s not London or New York…but there´s a scene and lots of people making and showing interesting stuff. But as I´m a designer, collage artist, illustrator, frustrated musician, father (most important!) and a (lame) mid-distance runner… I´m in busy mode almost all week and I do not take advantage of everything that´s happening in the city´s art scene. I should…

Anyway, Barcelona is a great place to live and work, no matter if you´re into the art world or not. Beach, mountains, nice people, great weather, cultural activities, good food, great architecture. I love this place.

Your signature work involves the transformation of various raw visual materials from the real world into creating an imaginary one.  In fact, you were recently published by Gestalten in The Age of Collage. Would you mind elaborating on what attracted you to collage, and the use of illustration and text as elements of your work?

I arrived to collage while studying at the University in Buenos Aires, when I read about the early XX century Avant Garde movements. The first time I saw the work from artists like Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch, Kurt Schwritters, et al. my mind was completely blown. The raw approach to art, the anti-art statement, the “disrespect” towards the artwork and the possibility of making art with daily objects was something that deeply inspired me and invited me to try it for myself.

Around that time I was editing and designing fanzines, and when I needed to use imagery to illustrate the texts we wrote, collage became my natural way of visually telling these stories. I felt that creating new stuff from forgotten material was a bold statement and a fun way of expressing my ideas.

After starting my professional career in the design business, illustration became the place were I did my most experimental work and where I wasn’t worried about commercial success, I just did what I wanted and liked. That helped me to develop a personal language and discourse which also elevated me professionally as an illustrator and collage artist.

About The Age of Collage, it deserves a small comment at least - it´s more than an honor being part of this book. It´s a selection of the best collage artists worldwide… I´m really happy that my work is featured along with such talented people :)

How would you best describe who you are as an artist?

I´m restless, very curious and I´m really open to mistakes.

Is there a through line to what you bill as the “organized chaos” that is your art? And what do Marx and Engels have to do with all of this?

Organizing chaos is the main task of any collage artists. From millions of possible images (a universe of chaos), we decide to use only a few and combine them in particular way to make our discourse visible through them. We are editors of reality and builders of new worlds. We are twisting the world we know to make a new one come to life.

Marx and Engels are just two icons that I used very often in my early years of work. I was deeply influenced by the tons of texts about Marxism, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism and many other “isms” I had to read at university. It was something between an homage, a joke and a call to my previous self.

Do you predefine constraints for each work, or is your process mostly without limits?

I love to work with limits. Most of the times I invent secret (and stupid) rules of production to create my collages. Collages created with 3 pieces and two main colors; collages crated with the letters B-D of an encyclopedia and a skate magazine…these are some rules that I impose on myself to create collage series. Limits are boosters of creativity and I love working with them.

In commercial work this is not always possible because of time and concept limits. In commercial work the brief is at the same time the limit and the inspiration. You have to make the most of the story that someone else wants you to tell.

Process or end result?

Both. I don´t like unpleasant process with nice results; nor fun process with ugly results. I want it all!

Has being an artist affected your personal life?

I guess so. Art is a healthy way to exorcise my demons. Also it consumes a great deal of my time, so it became a big part of my personal life. To be honest, making art is fun and i just can’t not do it. One way or the other, I always end up making projects (where art is somehow related). Until now I could not escape from it, even when I tried. But I´m not thinking too much about “art” (as a big word) or thinking of my role as an artist…I´m just doing stuff I like.

What do you do with your scraps?

I keep them as long as I can and I almost always used them in the on-going series of collage I´m working at the time. After that series is finished, small scraps are thrown away and the big ones are kept filed on my scraps archive. Scraps saved almost all of my collages from me hating them. Scraps are the essence of freshness.

You’ve previously shared with me some of your guitar work. What is your relationship with music, and are you still making it?

I love music. I´ve always been a music fan and a lousy guitar for just as long. But as happens with art and collage, I can´t stop doing it for a long time…so I try to play and have fun making music every time I can. My latest music project is so bizarre that I´ve done it under a pseudonym -which of course i´m not going to reveal now :)

Does your work carry a message, or provoke any desired response?

My work carries lots of messages and is open to many interpretations. I don´t like straightforward declarations. I like first, second and third rounds of discovering details, hidden messages and ideas. My desired response is always making the viewer ask: “What is this guy trying to tell me with this?”. As the great collage artist Charles Wilkin told me recently, “a good artwork is the one that asks more questions than answers” - or something like that.

Tell us about the last commercial gig or commission that you turned-down, and why?

Six years ago I turned down a piece for the New York Times because I simply had no time to do it. I was sure they were going to call me again… but they didn´t. Since then, I think long and hard before turning down a project…

And to be honest, I can´t remember which was the last one I turned down. I´m quite lucky because lately I have nice project proposals.

What were you doing before you committed to pursuing art as a profession? What might you be doing if you weren’t making art?

Along with working on my art projects I´m a graphic designer working on branding, packaging and communication projects. I am really happy doing this work too. It´s a more rational counterpart to my collage work. If it wasn´t these two professions… I could be doing almost anything related to books, writing or music (ha!). I would never be a doctor, a lawyer, a mathematician, or an engineer.

If your home was on fire, what three things would you save?

My wife and my son. Nothing else matters.

Any recent, current or future projects you are involved in that you would like to share with us?

Since 2011 I´ve been working on a curatorial project with my friend and collage artist Rubén B called The Weird Show. With TWS we´re putting up collage shows around the globe, and editing and publishing online and offline. After our last shows in Madrid and Berlin, Next April we´ll open our 10th show in Madrid and Berlin, and our 1st show in the USA at the Invisible Dog Gallery in Brooklyn, NY followed by a May show in Montreal, Canada. Also, we´re about to publish our first book with the works from some of the artists that showed their work in our 2012 shows in Latin America.

Final words?Thank you very much. 

Shop the Max-o-matic collection

Interview by Justin Cooper © 2014