May 15, 2015

Spotlight: Maxine Crump

Take a step inside the world of Maxine Crump.

Growing up is hard. Stuck in that weird purgatory between the last days of high school, aching to move onto "real life," yet still deeply terrified by the endless array of possible futures; low-hanging figs of possibility (Plath reference anyone?) falling with every unsteady step or hesitation. Things seem especially daunting for Maxine Crump, the Baltimore-based artist who, while still in high school, has been quietly working on incredible, hand-drawn illustrations for bands like Flowers Taped to Pens, Panucci’s Pizza, and Human Kitten, as well as releasing her own music, prints, and poetry on her blog. Her work, somewhere between bonny and badass, captures all the intimacy of crumpled high school doodles behind stickered notebook covers, paired now with the biting cynicism of feminist diy/tape culture. At the same time, Maxine’s illustrations and paintings establish an insular world of feminine self-care, body positivism, and fantasy, as she works through the day-to-day with her adorable, yet equally provocative sketches and comics. I sat down with Maxine to talk about her work, her current life in Baltimore, MD, and plans for her future.

TLS: So, how'd you get started in your art? While still in high school, it seems like you’ve amassed an impressive presence online, when did you first see things taking off? And what do you think attracts people to your work?

MC: Hm. I guess I first started developing my style when I was 13 or 14, just starting to take fundamental art classes (which I'd only signed up for to get the art credit required to graduate). Ninth grade was a rough year for me, and as clich̩ as it sounds, my art provided a morbid sort of comfort. I was constantly drawing myself in grotesque forms because my self esteem was not tops, and I felt isolated from everyone else. things gradually improved over the following year, and by eleventh grade I felt a lot more secure than I had before. I began to develop a cohesive theme throughout my work, which focuses mainly on the dichotomy between the whimsical and the disturbing. Having a really concrete concentration that I've taken years to cultivate has allowed me to create art that is both accessible and provoking. I think the balance maintained between darkness/cuteness is something that a lot of people Рespecially young people Рcan relate to, so that could be a part of it as well. either way, I'm glad folks are into my work!

Oh, and I first felt like my work was really gaining attention around the beginning of eleventh grade, when I started doing commissions for labels like Driftwood and Ozona. Forgot to throw that in.

TLC: So, how’d you get involved with bands like Human Kitten and labels like Driftwood and Ozona? Did they reach out to you? Did you have prior experience/friends in bands that you did prior work for/etc. that led you there? Did they reach out to you?

MC: I think I first got involved with that scene the summer before I started eleventh grade. I'd started recording little demos of songs I'd written and posting them to Tumblr occasionally, and Josh Zirkle (ozona) ended up getting in touch about releasing a tape. I put one out under the moniker "bear" at the end of that summer, and though I'm embarrassed of most of the songs I wrote now, some of them are alright. Music isn't really my thing, but I'm still proud of myself for giving it a go, and I'll occasionally sit down and write something even now.

Anyway, I think I met Dandy (Driftwood) through Hosh, and he asked me to do a t-shirt design for the label. I've done quite a few since then, and it's been really awesome seeing people I don't even know wearing my drawings. A friend of mine who goes to school in Virginia actually just texted me today and told me a girl in one of her classes was wearing a Driftwood patch that I'd designed, and it's little things like that that make merch design so much fun for me.

TLS: Yeah, Driftwood is pretty big around here (I think?) and I actually came across your stuff through Ozona.

MC: Oh word! Yeah they've been gaining a lot of popularity around here too which is super super cool.

TLS: Do you feel like the work you do for those guys has a different feel than your other illustrations? 

MC: Definitely. Like I said, my personal work is really self-oriented, but the commissions I do tend to be a lot more commercial. Even if I'm not working to a prompt, there's a sort of DIY/punk vibe that I feel obligated to capture since that's the scene I'm catering to. I still think theres consistency though – the underlying creepiness beneath the bubbly images and big-toothed smiles is always there.

TLS: Yeah, and it still seems like they approached you do things based on what they liked in your own work, so in part they wanted to keep that consistent. Do you have a favorite piece you’ve done so far? Or anything you’re particularly proud of?

MC: I think if I had to pick just one, my favorite would be this: it's a thumbnail of a larger piece O sold called "bitter cold." I drew it back in february when I went to visit my boyfriend in Chicago, so I guess the inspiration there is obvious.

TLS: Wow yeah, I love this one!

MC: Thank you!

TLS: How do you like Baltimore? Though I’m slightly unfamiliar with the visual art scene there, it always seems like there’s an incredible amount of underground music coming out of that city. Do you feel like a product of your environment at all? 

MC: I absolutely love my city, and I'd be lying if I said I'm not sad to be leaving in a few months. MICA's presence is hugely beneficial to the art scene, and since its held in pretty high regard as art institutes go, loads of talented artists live in and around the city. I feel super lucky to be friends with a lot of them, and to be constantly exposed to such stellar work helps a lot to inform my own. And yeah, the music scene is fucking great. The bands and musicians from here that get a lot of attention are usually kind of oddball/eccentric types (see: David Byrne, Ponytail, Ed Schrader, Animal Collective) and I think thats a reflection of the general feel of the scene. I sound kinda douchey right now, but whatever, I've just got a lot of hometown pride! But yeah, I think that eccentricity shows in my work (or at least I like to think it does.)

TLS: Do you feel indebted to the Internet or Internet culture in any way?

MC: I feel kind of weird about Internet culture, but I certainly feel indebted to it. Without the Internet, I wouldn't have been nearly as successful in marketing my work as I have been. I'm so grateful to everyone whose supported me, especially the people who've been around since I was a little 13 year-old baby. On the other hand, I think theres a sort of toxicity that surrounds interactions and self-projection on social media – it's like everything anyone says has to be coated in sarcastic detachment, because if you take yourself too seriously on the Internet, you're just a prick. I don't care for that. I think genuine expression is invaluable, regardless of when or where you choose to express it. And I think the way that people stifle that when they see it in others, especially on the Internet, is artistically detrimental. I dunno. I guess I'm about 50/50 when it comes to the Internet.

TLS: Yeah I feel that. How do you want to see your art grow in the future? Do you think the internet will continue to be such a big part of what you do? Or at least in your approach to getting it out there, I guess, instead of like gallery shows, zines, etc.

MC: I actually just hung my first show at the restaurant where I work and it's gone really well so far, so hopefully I'll continue doing hangings and shows like that! I never really thought I'd be able to market my work in a way that wasn't explicitly commercial (like the merch I've designed), so that's really encouraging. But I think the Internet will always be a big part of how I market my style, simply because it reaches such a large audience. Having tools like Tumblr and Etsy at my disposal are just phenomenal, because they're such straightforward interfaces. People anywhere in the world can access my work, which is just completely wild to me even in the digital age. It's 2015 and I feel alive as hell.

TLS: Hell yeah, it's nice to have people actually embrace their internet/marketing for once. Any plans for after you graduate?

MC: Yeah! I don't know, sometimes the internet sucks but its important regardless. I'm moving halfway across the country this fall to go to the school of The Art Institute of Chicago. I'm simultaneously stoked and fucking terrified, but mostly just happy to be able to immerse myself in my art completely. It's absurdly frustrating to be taking an AP math class at this point in the game when I know for sure that that's not what I'm gonna be pursuing, so I'm pleased that that'll be coming to a close soon. beyond that, i'm just gonna try to keep myself in one piece!

TLS: Wow, yeah for sure, hopefully things go okay! Any closing thought/things you really wanted to say but didn't get mentioned?

MC: Thank you! Umm, oof, I'm so bad with this kind of thing but shout out to anyone who likes the stuff I draw! And shout out to the mac and cheese balls they sell at trader joe's, those are so damn good. Thats all I got.

TLS: Hahaha, well thanks for taking the time to do all this!

MC: Dude it's my pleasure!

Rob Arcand is freelance writer & student based in Norfolk, Va. He sometimes does music and design things and likes mumbly slowcore, bad poems, and the internet.