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Max Maslansky, Web Diver: Turning Strangers' Online Photos into Paintings

Max Maslansky: Side Show B, 2011, acrylic on canvas
Max Maslansky: Side Show B, 2011, acrylic on canvas
Courtesy of EGHQ

You might have heard of crate-diving -- it's the far-ranging, patiently obsessive search for dusty, overlooked musical gems and obscure bits of vinyl genius to sample in one's own turntablism or studio production. In a real sense, what LA-based artist Max Maslansky does is "web-dive," using the Internet like his favorite out-of-the-way record store.

The wonderful, wacky, disturbing, charming, familiar and frequently pornographic photographic gems he finds during his daily web sessions eventually become the raw materials of his paintings and drawings, some of which are currently on view at Emma Gray HQ. But first they find their way into his ever-growing image archive, as Maslansky painstakingly organizes his found frames into hilarious and vaguely creepy mock vacation albums that live -- where else -- his Facebook page.

As an artist, Maslansky is a meta-collagist, a virtual assemblagist, a portraitist of strangers, an earnest folk artist, a painter with a command of various styles, and a sharp-witted satirist. The photos he finds are transformed not only through his curation, but through the exacting, carefully rendered way in which he paints them, with a confident approximation of outsider art and other deliberately naive aesthetics.

Max Maslansky: Untitled (funeral #1), 2011, acrylic on canvas
Max Maslansky: Untitled (funeral #1), 2011, acrylic on canvas
Courtesy of EGHQ
Max Maslansky: Untitled (GG Allin), 2011, acrylic on canvas
Max Maslansky: Untitled (GG Allin), 2011, acrylic on canvas
Courtesy of EGHQ
Max Maslansky: Untitled (funeral #2), 2011, acrylic on canvas
Max Maslansky: Untitled (funeral #2), 2011, acrylic on canvas
Courtesy of EGHQ

Taking a hunting-and-gathering approach to narrative, Maslansky generates story through juxtaposition. These photographs may have been found by chance, but there's nothing random about their sequencing in his Summer albums -- or about the paintings that derive from them.

Much of the joy in his online culling lies in a giddy sense of discovery that he manages to recreate and impart to the viewer. The press release diagnoses him with Scopophilia, meaning a "love of looking," a more guileless form of voyeurism that treats looking around as a creative act unto itself.

Max Maslansky: From the album Summer '09
Max Maslansky: From the album Summer '09
Max Maslansky: From the album Summer '09
Max Maslansky: From the album Summer '09
Max Maslansky: Untitled (Clown), 2011, acrylic on canvas
Max Maslansky: Untitled (Clown), 2011, acrylic on canvas
Courtesy of EGHQ

In the current exhibition, he shows selected photographs as well as a suite of paintings, most of which focus on two of his favorite recurring themes: funerals and African tourism. Much of the movement in his "stories" is conveyed through groupings and segues based on visual puns and quirky patterns: masks, food, sex clubs, mirrors, bicycles, Nazi motifs, etc. The cues proceed with an intuitive logic, like a game of free association, one to the next -- rings, tattoos, military scenes, clowns and, of course, penises are very popular. It mirrors the logic of the Internet itself.

The paintings and photo-collage and montages are accompanied at EGHQ by a slide show on a loop, Summer '08 - '11, which comes complete with its own soundtrack -- an atonal mash of sounds, words, and an anarchy of notes that could well be the noise of his synapses firing when Maslansky's in the zone. Set among the paintings, the video acts as a kind of index to the whole project, making the artist's process fairly explicit as about 30 minutes of selected photographic juxtapositions melt by.

Max Maslansky: From the album Summer '11
Max Maslansky: From the album Summer '11
From the album Summer '11
From the album Summer '11

The slideshow soundtrack further illuminates Maslansky's thought process by including readings from Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion -- a wide-ranging, comparative study of mythology and religion written by the Scottish anthropologist in 1890, with a decidedly modern, secular approach to these fields as forms of sociological literature. This appeals to Maslansky's particular fascination for group ritual as a performative activity -- the more bizarre the better -- and for its additional function as entertainment. His work recognizes that today, a lot of group ritual is happening online. After all, before he could find this stuff, someone had to take the trouble to upload it.

Max Maslansky: Collectors (with sound), 2010, acrylic on canvas
Max Maslansky: Collectors (with sound), 2010, acrylic on canvas
Courtesy of EGHQ
From the album Summer '11
From the album Summer '11
From the album Summer '11
From the album Summer '11

Perhaps his own caption on the Michael Jackson in Ronald clown-face picture (from his Summer '09 album) best sums up the whole glorious, messy enterprise. It states: "This may be in poor taste, but it's all I had in the drawer."

"Max Maslansky: Behind the Internet" is on view at Emma Gray HQ in Culver City through June 8


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