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Q&A with American Artist Norm ‘Nomzee’ Maxwell

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GHETTO GAGA

Norm “Nomzee” Maxwell (1969)
USA, Philadelphia, PA

MV – What are fvorite movie(s) & director(s)?

“Naked Lunch”. I’m a huge fan of science fiction and films that have twisted plots. “Dead Man” directed by Jim Jarmusch is another great film. It’s like watching Visual Poetry.

MV – What are your favorite book(s) & author(s)?

I collect books as a hobby. I rarely get the chance to read many of them cover to cover. Lately, I’ve been thumbing through Sartre’s, “Being and Nothingness” and “The Forgotten Books of Eden.” “Being and Nothingness” fuels my theory that we only perceive 1/10 of 1% of the people we encounter. “The Forgotten Books” gives at least three versions of the creation story. It also includes the “Book of Enoch”, which is loaded with inspiration.

MV – Which is your favorite cultural centre or museum?

I would move into the Louvre, if they’d let me. I could spend the rest of my life studying the collections there. The first time I entered the Reubens Wing, I was blown away. Tears of joy welled up in my eyes that I couldn’t restrain. I’ve never felt that feeling in any museum. The Philadelphia Museum is also at the top of my list. It’s the home of two of my favorite paintings, “Prometheus Bound” by Paul Reubens and “The Massacre of Innocence” by Francesco de Rosa.

MV – What have been our most aesthetically (sensual, spiritual, intellectual) inspired experience?

I was still writing on walls when I decided to go to art school to study illustration. During my second year I had a painting teacher that changed my perspective on art. His name is Virgil Sova. He’s a symbolist painter who incorporates meditation into his process as a way to connect with his subconscious. Aside from the fact that Sova was the first person I’d met who actually made living as a painter, I found his process very intriguing. I began hanging around his studio trying to learn as much as I could. He turned me on to Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. I wanted to be like Sova. I began to take painting seriously and started experimenting with meditation. One day, I had an out-of-body experience. I can only recall the last part of the experience; I was sitting by a waterfall with a group of people laughing. It was as if I knew everyone there. When I remembered that I was suppose to be in my room, I began to float away. The people waved to me wishing me a safe return. When I woke up in my room hours had past and it was dark. I realize that there was definitely more to learn about the subconscious. Later that evening I started a painting. I put in a cassette and kept flipping it every time the music stopped. Eventually I stopped hearing the music and got lost in myself. I didn’t realize the music stopped until the sun came shining in the window the next morning. I realized that I’d lost all sense of time and never really stopped to think about what I was painting. It was like i was watching my hands working away from across the room. The painting was being painted subconsciously. I think I’m still chasing that high trying to get back to that place.

MV – What is your art (books, movie, exhibition, museum, etc) wish list?

I’m looking forward to Gagosian representing my work in the near future. Once I’ve made that commitment everything else will follow, the publishing deals with Taschen, the show at the Whitney and the Tate, the Venice Bienniale, Art Basel. My biggest dilemma will be keeping up with the demand without going totally Warhol. Maybe when I get bored with all that, I’ll take a break from painting to pursue directing. I’ve always wanted to make a science fiction movie based on my work.

MV – Who is the artist/character (in any medium) with whom you most identify?

I really identify with Elon Musk. He’s the inventor of the Tesla electric car and the owner of SpaceX. His story is pretty amazing and I believe that he is a testament to the possibilities that we’re capable of as individuals. I’m a believer in the old adage “I think therefore I am”. I also Identify with Joseph Campbell’s philosophy “Follow Your Bliss”. I think this mindset opens the door to our true potential. I believe that if we don’t love what we do, then there’s no point in doing it. The world would be a better place if we all enjoyed what we did.

MV – What is the city in which you feel most inspired?

I am most inspired by Paris in the summer. There’s so much to see and experience. It’s a city that stimulates all the senses. From the food to the museums and architecture, the beautiful people. Even the ugly people look good in Paris.

MV – Who has been the influential person in your life – character, artist, filmmaker, writer, etc?

The most influential person in my life was my older brother, Ricky. His life was cut short, but the lessons I’ve learned from him have had the greatest impact in my life. He was a naturally gifted artist. When he was young, he would copy Dick Tracy comics exactly as the were in the Sunday paper. By the mid 70’s he started writing graffiti. He would scrawl his name on everything in the house. The family thought he was crazy. One day while riding the bus, I saw my brothers tag, NEAK, on a bridge. I thought that was the coolest thing the world. It wasn’t long before I took up the trade. I owe a lot of what I’ve accomplished to what I’ve learned from my brother. Not just creatively, but the initial quest for fame and to be something more was inspired by him. Ricky was a dreamer. His passing was a pivotal point in my life where I had to decide wether I was going to become another stereotype with a predestined fate or be the master of my destiny and define a new path. I chose the later and everyday has been an adventure ever since.

MV – What are the most challenging aspects of working in the art world (& its institutions)?

The most challenging aspect of working in the art world is being an “Artist”. It’s the most obscure occupation in the world. It’s also the most disposable. There are a lot of myths that artist buy into concerning the art world. I saw an interview with Gallery owner, Jack Rutberg, he say’s he’s been in the art business for 35 years and the “art world” is as much a mystery today as it was 35 years ago. I think one of the biggest misconceptions artist have about the art world, is the myth of being discovered. Today artist have to market themselves and to a large degree manage themselves until someone takes notice. Galleries are becoming increasingly harder to get into, so artist must always remain open to alternatives to building their audience. I usually recommend that artist discover themselves. Create an opportunity for yourself. It’s very important for the artist to remember just how important they really are. Without them there would be no art world. Society at large has to be reminded that everything we see that has been created by man, has an artist at the root of it’s development. So it’s important for the artist to understand that their work is a commodity with real value. The other thing that artist have to steer clear of is over valuation. Understanding the concept of first and after markets empowers the artist to understand the true value of their work. Delusions of the value of ones work can kill deals as well as careers before they begin. Artist should not create with the intention of becoming wealthy from their work. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but sincerity can emanate from the work as well as insincerity. To answer the challenges presented by “art world”, I would suggest artist to, “Stay true to Yourself”.

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MV – What is the most gratifying aspect of being a part of the art world (& its institutions)?

The most gratifying aspect of being part of the art world for me is “Freedom”. I don’t think there’s a more liberating industry that exists. In the art world, I’m allowed to be myself, produce the work that I enjoy and make a living doing it. Where else can you do that? The art world is so abstract that there really are no rules. There are a million ways to achieve the same goal and no two paths will lead to the same destination.

MV – What is the one thing that you always carry with you … ?

In the past I would’ve said to always carry a pen and a sketchbook to document people, places and things, but in addition to that I’d have to add the cell phone. Unfortunately I left home without mine once and I disappeared from the face of the Earth for the day. I almost had a meltdown about it until I remembered a time not too long ago when I lived without one.

MV – What are arts patrons’ responsibilities, if any?

I believe that patrons have a responsibility to the artist they collect. The patron has a duty to understand who they are supporting and the intentions behind the work. In this way the patron can become informed as well as become attached to the artist and the work personally. Great patrons become an unseen part of the process. In many cases some the of the most famous works of art would never have manifested or seen the light of day if it were not for the support of the patron. We can thank the patrons of the great artist of the past for their contribution to the works we enjoy today. I would say to patrons, “Support what you Love”. In effect you are supporting yourself. The gratification of contributing toward something that will last beyond your lifetime is priceless.

MV – What are artists’ responsibilities to their art or(?) to society, if any?

I believe artist have a responsibility to society through their art. That responsibility is honesty. Artist are the mirror that reflects the society that we live in. We are the soul of community, the sages, the healers of our world. The artist is the architect of his or her environment, but the times dictate what is and is not relevant. The artist should raise social consciousness and awareness in some way that is relevant to the times we live in.

MV – What are you art world pet peeves?

One of my pet peeves with the art world is the lack of substance in contemporary art. A lot of conceptual art doesn’t really say very much, which in turn speaks volumes about the audience. As a society we should be wary when the artist has nothing to say.

Please visit MUSEUMVIEWS for the Biographical Note on Norm ‘Nomzee’ Maxwell.

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