If Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, then California is the land of 100,000 hues. Between the beautiful sunsets, desert flora, giant sequoias, towering mountains and pristine beaches, the natural landscape inspires effortlessly. Beyond that, the diverse cultural communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and nearly every town throughout the state make the urban landscape just as majestic. Buildings awash in pastel pinks, oranges, yellows, and baby blues.

Maxwell McMaster is quite familiar with the California color-spectrum. Born in Sacramento and now living in LA, he paints vivid dreamscapes inspired by the Golden State and its residents. They capturing the flow between humans and nature, leaving his finished pieces somewhat moody, surreal, yet playful. On the precipice of his upcoming show at First Amendment Gallery in San Francisco, and just coming off a show at Sacramento’s Public Land, we chatted with McMaster about his background, inspirations, and painting.

So first off, where did you grow up and what type of stuff were you into as a kid? When did you start making art and what did it look like?
I grew up in Sacramento, California. As a kid, I was into everything. I remember being super into Legos. I spent a lot of time alone playing with action figures, He-Man, in particular. I’ve always had a vivid imagination and I still do. I’ve always drawn, but the first memories I have of drawing were of planes. I remember someone taught me the perspective of a plane wing. It’s a specific memory, but I remember it was with crayons. That was early on. Later, it was the Ninja Turtles. I remember getting really into drawing around then, I had a friend who was a natural at it and I learned a lot from watching him. I remember it was just a lot of fun, we would pass drawings back and forth to each other in class.

What's your favorite thing about California? 
I like the people. I like the laid-back attitude. That’s why I stay here. In SoCal, where I live currently, it’s the creative energy and, of course, the weather.


You used to feature animals and people more in your work, when did you start painting more landscape-type scenes?
I can definitely see more of those coming back into my work these days. To be honest, it wasn’t a super conscious decision; the landscapes were just more fun. I could be more abstract with them and focus more on color and working with minimal compositions.

Do you consider your work to be surreal? Some of the scenes seem otherworldly, even though they're inspired by your home state.
I definitely do, and I sometimes feel like the images are from some other place. Some of them have an almost hypnotic quality. My biggest reward in doing this is the result. I am a spectator of the work as much as I am the creator of it. If I can surprise myself in some way, then I feel like I’ve done a good job.

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What draws you to the color palette you use? It's unique. When did you start working more with it more?
I’ve always been attracted to pastels and I think that’s a large part of what I use. I guess pink, in particular, is a color people have pointed out that I use frequently. I think pink is a good color to lighten the mood of a piece. Color is a huge part of my work and I can enjoy a painting based purely on color, regardless of subject. Color creates mood and feel. I’m very interested in this phenomenon and am always continuing to learn how it works.

Who are some of your inspirations or icons that aren't painters or traditionally considered "artists"?
I love music equally to art. I've always loved it. I grew up with a father who was a singer and a musician, so the love has always been there. I have so many favorites, mostly soul, jazz, and rap: Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone, Sade, Andre 3000, Miles Davis. I could go on and on.

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