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Paul Chatem and Mike Maxwell

Juxtapoz // Wednesday, 21 Mar 2007

Interview and portraits by Isaac McKay-Randozzi

Technicality aside, what stands out when it comes to a painter's work is its attractiveness to the eye. Do the images stand out and make you want to look at them? Once it has your attention, does it keep it? Does the artistry and talent hold the viewer's attention? With the subjects of this interview, the answer is unequivocally, yes. The carefully groomed mustaches and delicately deep eyes of Mr. Maxwell's paintings keeps the viewers looking at each detail of every brush stroke. Mr. Chatem's textured backgrounds frame scenes of despondent stories and wonderfully painted characters. His comic traits cloak the darkness that lies at the heart of a large percentage of his work.

Recently these two artists were paired at the Shooting Gallery in an aquatic themed show entitled 33 Knots (see our photos from the show). In the following interview we find that they have more in common than just ability with paint and brush.

Names, places of birth and shoe size:

PAUL: Paul Chatem, Bellevue, WA. Size 11.
MIKE: Mike Maxwell, El Cajon, CA. Size 11.

Number of hot dogs you could eat in 60 seconds:

MIKE: If I was trying? Maybe 3. Hotdogs are gross. Especially those ones they eat in the competitions.

Current place of residence:

PAUL: Los Angeles
MIKE: Crest, CA (a suburb of San Diego)

Why art? Why not plumbing?

PAUL: Art smells better.
MIKE: It's the thing I know how to do best. It's all I want to do. If I didn't get paid to do it I'm sure I would figure something else out. I would still paint regardless.
What do you do to make a living, put a roof over your head and keep from being another dirty hippie in Santa Cruz?

PAUL: Right now I'm just making art, not quite making a living, but giving it my all.
MIKE: I make pretty pictures.

How did you two first meet each other?

PAUL: We didn't meet until our first show together, Whiskey Thieves, at The Shooting Gallery.

How did your two-person show, 33 Knots, come together?

MIKE: Justin from the Shooting Gallery curated the show and brought us together.

Which piece was the hardest do finish for the show?

PAUL: I think "In Davy's Grip" was the most challenging, because of all the characters that I put in that painting and the way they interacted with the water and each other.

Paul Chatem

MIKE: Probably the four boat piece "We All Go Under" as it was a step in another direction. It was a challenge in comparison to some of the other pieces. I don't ever really think a painting is hard though. Everything is easy if you just work it out.

Mike Maxwell

If I was some jerk coming in from the street and asked you, "Hey Mr. Artist, why so much for some paint on wood/canvas/lamb skin?" What would you say?

PAUL: I usually tell people it takes a lot of time and energy to make art, but there's also cost that goes into it, materials, rent, beer, shipping and handling, etc.
MIKE: I would say good question. Now buy something cheapskate!

Is there any purpose to art, besides to make people think?

PAUL: Art is different to each individual that makes it and to who views it. It can make people think, it can make them feel something, or it can be a completely selfish act, made by an individual because it's something they felt they had to do without the thought of what others would think.

Who has been a consistent inspiration artistically for you over the years? Someone you can always look at and get stoked on?

PAUL: I've mostly been influenced by comic book artists like Jim Woodring, Daniel Clowes, Al Columbia and Kim Dietch. As far as painters I've been really excited about the work that Camille Rose Garcia and Robert Hardgrave are doing. When I'm thinking about art though, I look for inspiration from other sources, for example, the movies of Jim Jarmush, William S. Burroughs novels, obscure history texts and old blues and string band songs.
MIKE: So many, Mike Giant, Margaret Kilgallen, Barry McGee, Dave Kinsey, Doze Green, Os Gemeos, Ben Horton, Kelsey Brookes, Jeff Soto, Sylvia Ji, Tiffany Bozic, Paul Urich, Adam Hawthorn, Chandu Reading, Paul Chatem and many many more.

Music you listen to when you art:

PAUL: Tom Waits, Old Crow Medicine Show, and a heavy dose of The Cramps
MIKE: Bonnie Prince Billy, Wilco, Built To Spill, Bowie, Seu Jorge, Smog, Modest Mouse, Bob Dylan. Many many more.

Weird Al, musical genius or retard?

PAUL: Alien.
MIKE: I think its a little of both.

Madonna, slut or video artists?

PAUL: Robot.
MIKE: Again maybe a little of both? She may or may not be a slut; I guess that depends on your own definition of what a slut is. She is for sure a video artist.

Gary Larson, lunatic or comic master?

PAUL: He's kind of like decaf coffee. Tastes pretty good but no buzz.
MIKE: I don't know him personally so I can't make an opinion on his mental state. So I guess comic master.

If you could create an animal, what would it be?

PAUL: I think I'd create an urban tortoise. It would have to be faster than a normal tortoise, and maybe carnivorous. It could feed off of pests like pigeons and rats. It would change colors like a chameleon and give live birth instead of laying eggs. It would also be worshiped and protected like cows are in India.
MIKE: It would be a mix of all animals put together. It would be a big free-for-all!

Who was your first crush?

PAUL: I don't remember what I had for breakfast.
MIKE: Shannon Coleman. At least that was a far back as I could remember. I think it was 3rd grade maybe?

What's your take on artist-edition sunglasses?

PAUL: No opinion.
MIKE: If you have fun making them, I would say more power to ya.

Paul Chatem

Mike Maxwell

Upcoming projects?

PAUL: I'm working with Nathan Fox on a two-man show for CoproNason Gallery, in Santa Monica, which will open in July 2007.
MIKE: Going to London and Japan to paint murals (super excited). A couple of shows coming up at The Venice Contemporary and Thinkspace in LA. I have a small group show coming up in April at Voice 1156 in San Diego with Ryan Jacob Smith, Paul Chatem, Kelsey Brookes, and myself.

If given $500,000 for an art project, what would you like to do with it?

PAUL: I really want to put together a narrative painting project, where I can release a book that would accompany a showing of the work at a gallery.
MIKE: I suppose you want me to give you the "Miss America" answer here, huh? Well to start I would probably give half to the Keep-A-Breast foundation because they are doing great work. Then I would most likely keep the other half to help support myself while working on new art. Not having to worry about paying rent and the phone bill is extremely helpful to a full time working artist.

What paints and materials do you prefer to paint with?

PAUL: I use different brands of acrylics. I like certain colors that Golden makes, and other colors that Dick Blick makes, then I use Liquitex medium viscosity paint for the details and line work. I don't really use any particular brand of brushes.
MIKE: Black Gold Dynasty Brushes. Golden Acrylic/House paint and Windsor and Newton Indian Ink (Black Spider).

Human figures play an important part in both of your works, why? Is it the familiarity of the form, or a way to convey a story or topic? Both, neither?

PAUL: I'd say both. Storytelling is an important part of my art. To communicate my ideas to the viewers they need to relate to what they are seeing. Using human figures or humanesque animals, the viewer gets drawn into a world that seems familiar to them.This creates an opening for me to get my ideas across no matter how obscure they might be.
MIKE: There are a ton of reason why I have chose human figures to be at the forefront of my work. One for instance is the idea that I can keep someone "alive" or at least their memory, long after they have passed on. I think a lot of artists including myself have this need to leave something on this earth that will be here long after we are gone. I know I do. I think I am sort of trying to make sure people who I find interesting have something left here on this earth to remind people they existed.

Do you think the social anxiety of difference that first cast out the young artist and separated her/him from the masses has lead to a creeping sadness that is represented not only in your art but in a majority of painters and artists that are working today? Or is this pathos general and encompasses all humans?

PAUL: I think most people feel separated from the whole. It just comes naturally from being human, egos and all. Some people, artists in particular, revel in these feelings and use this position of feeling on the outside as inspiration. Being an outside observer is a good way to learn about the true nature of things, but it can also feel lonely and I'm sure that comes out in the work.
MIKE: I think sadness is an easily recognizable emotion so it is often displayed. There is something real about sadness whereas Joy is often imitated and not quite real. It's often times displayed as just a show. For instance when we are forced to smile to take a picture. Say Cheese!!! That sort of emotion is obviously faked. We never fake sadness for a picture. So I think that is a big reason artists like myself focus a significant amount of energy in reproducing a somber emotion.

Paul Chatem

Mike Maxwell

Do you do any commercial work? If so what kind?

PAUL: I'm just concentrating on gallery work right now.
MIKE: I just did an artist series collaboration with Crystal Barnes for a new clothing company called Lewsader. They are about to blow up so keep your eyes ands ears open.

Would you or have you done mural work, or something on a larger scale than what you currently do?

PAUL: I've done larger commercial work, like a mural for an ice cream store and some stuff for people's houses. Then I've done a lot of stuff for the movie and television industry, but nothing that resembled my personal work.
MIKE: I was involved with painting a mural with The Glue Network. I recently did some mural work over seas and have a couple other things planned out for the future. So yes painting big is fun and a challenge.

Would you do greeting card work?

PAUL: I don't think I have the right mindset to do greeting cards in the traditional sense, but there is a company called Letterpressed in Fresno, CA that put out a print for me that I had at the show. They also put out a letter-pressed Artist Series cards, and I'm planning on doing a card with them. Kathie Olivas, Brandt Peters and Bwana Spoons have all done cards for them, and they look really good.
MIKE: I doubt it.

Paul, in your paintings for the 33 Knots show you told a story, what is that story about?

PAUL: The paintings for 33 Knots weren't as much of a linear story like I've done in the past, but they were done in a way that if you viewed them from left to right, you got a sense of a greater idea than any one painting showed by itself.

The main idea was that there is something people are searching for to give their life meaning, and don't always care about who they hurt to get it. In the show I represented this with the crown of eyes. It doesn't represent one thing in particular, because everybody is searching for something different. The crown could represent knowledge, wealth, religion, love or whatever that thing is you think you need. So throughout the series the different characters are committing different acts and meeting the consequences of their actions.

Any thank yous or last words of wisdom you would like to impart?

PAUL: William S. Burroughs said, "Nothing exists until or unless it is observed." An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it "creative observation". Creative viewing.
MIKE: Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of this crazy career choice. Especially my lovely lady Crystal and my extremely supportive family. I feel blessed.

See also and