Painter Maximilian Toth isn’t your gaunt introverted aesthete. Effete is not a word in his universe. Rather the man and the images he produces have about them a muscularity, a torque… presence. “I think all the really good art,” he says, “not that I put my work up in that pantheon (though it is something I strive for) – comes from people who always have lived a bunch. They weren’t the ones staying separate or unable to engage life. Really good art has an exhilarating or well-lived life in it. That’s why it reaches out and does something more. And, yeah, I’ve always been out’n about.”
From the get-go, growing up in “a hamlet outside of Boston, where Thoreau, Hawthorne and Emerson all came from (so it was a historical district and we couldn’t have any fast food or anything), and where Main Street still looked like Mayberry,” Toth and his three siblings were exposed to some capital-L Life. “We were saved from the banality of the sleepy town because our parents basically made our house a halfway home for crazies – well, not crazies, really great people, but interesting story tellers. We had everything from eight Scotsmen, who my dad met in a bar, living with us for a month playing soccer and drinking up a storm, to one of my dad’s old football buddies who’d had a full on sex-change staying with us, to friends of the family who were dying of AIDS and whose families wouldn’t support them because of their homosexuality, come to live with us while they were preparing to die. And all of this was when I was pretty young. You got comfortable around everyone.”
Though even after gestating in such a seemingly liberal, laissez-faire chrysalis, young Max wasn’t allowed to just roam free when he came of age. Toth’s father, whom he characterizes as an only slightly less zany Clark Griswold figure, who was both a college football player and painter talented enough to receive a residency in Paris, demanded of his son a respectable college degree. “Well, it was English – literature – so they weren’t exactly forcing me into some kind of hardship, or even something I didn’t already love.” With the BA from Trinity University (and ma and pa’s blessing) in pocket he went on to earn first a BFA from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and then an MFA from Yale. And thence the breakthrough.
While in New Haven Toth first began toying with the chalk-on-blackboard effect which now figures so predominantly in his work. In fact the textural and contextual playfulness of the institutional matte beneath his line-drawn schoolboy figures in all manner of animate torsion have become something of a signature for the painter. “The ‘black-ground’ painting is something that has been going on since school,” he says. “Really, the first moments I started feeling like I was actually making art or making what I wanted to be making came at the same time as moving toward the black board.”
But what might be the most dynamic element of the new work is what in the modern parlance would be called the cropping. One gets a claustrophobic frisson on discovering such boldly athletic bodies contained in such a way. There is a silent clamoring, a frozen fit in each tableau. “I work un-stretched, on a wall,” Toth says by way of explanation, “and I always have anywhere from a couple inches to a couple feet of extra canvas. There are two reasons I really like this. The first is because the paintings are really linear-based and I want a lot of interaction with them – so instead of re-stretching when I’m done I can just push against a wall and get the resistance I’m looking for. But the real strong point is that I love to be able to crop in the end. I feel like no matter how hard I try to make a composition new and fresh I am yet to find one that, even when planned out, can’t be improved by cutting a few inches off. It also allows me to really enjoy the process of making a painting all the way through until the end. I never get sick of them.”
Toth attributes the maturity and cohesiveness of his present show, “Little Beasts,” at Fredericks & Freiser, produced over the course of the last year, to the gallerists’ pacing of his exhibitions. “We decided early on that we wanted a pacing that would allow the work to grow,” he says, “so that each show would hopefully be exciting to see and hopefully something slightly new each time instead of just pumping it out.” In this, his second show with the gallery, Toth felt more in control of his craft. “I felt I had a better handle on how I was getting what I was getting. So instead of having to put up really in-your-face subject matter I could take something more loaded, a little more quiet, and the verbiage of how I was doing what I was doing got stronger so I could let that do all the talking.”
And it is talking indeed. “Little Beasts” is the work of a great storyteller. And evidence of an exhilarating and well-lived life.
Maximilian Toth “Little Beasts” @ Fredericks & Freiser Gallery through January 30th. 536 W 24th Street New York, NY 10011 T212 633 6555 firstname.lastname@example.org