Max Gimblett is a New Zealand painter and visual artist who has been exhibiting for over 40 years. He currently spends his time between New Zealand and New York.
GIMBLETT’S EARLY CREATIVITY
Max Gimblett’s creative journey began slowly. As a child, he drew in books: “I’ve got an illustrated Winnie-the-Pooh, which is startling! I wasn’t creative at school. I was good at English and Social Studies; I wasn’t any good at drawing. I got very low marks for drawing. I was frozen.”
Max did not pick up a paintbrush until he was 28 years old. He came to painting through pottery – in a chance encounter. “I was taken to a pot shop by a Canadian painter, and the potter looked at me and said ‘I need an apprentice’. I said ‘what’s the deal?’ He said ‘you work here six days a week, eight hours a day. You wouldn’t get paid a penny. After a year, I’d let you make your first pot. I said to him: ‘I’m your man.'” Max worked as a potter for two and a half years before transitioning to painting. He is unromantic about the choice.
“I think I became an artist because at the age of 28 I found myself without any skills – without being able to do anything. Grabbing a paintbrush and swiping it across a canvas just seemed like a possible thing to do. My wife looked at my first painting and said, ‘You’re a painter.’ I said, ‘Yes’. That began 20 years of abject poverty for the two of us. I didn’t sell a painting for 25 years. That was my apprenticeship.”
CREATIVITY AND MORALITY
Max says his creativity is driven by a “search for the truth”. The seed of this idea was planted by the words “seek the truth”, emblazoned on a building at his primary school. “Tell the truth, and the truth will be revealed” he says. “For me, art is the truth. It carries justice with it.”
This truth is meant to be shared. When it comes to creative practice, Max says, “I don’t believe there’s stealing. There is transmission. Other artists give you permission in their work to use their devices, ideas and techniques. I think art is an accretion of very small movements forward in the history of consciousness. Artists don’t actually make original work: they build on the shoulders of giants and they add a little bit of new culture.” As an example, he says “Sigmar Polke got his dots from Salvadore Dali, and I got my dots from Sigmar Polke.”
Max also feels people have a responsibility to express their creativity. “If you don’t share it, it’s not evident; it’s invisible.” Shared, a generous creative impulse “can be heightened and collected.”
He recognises that not all art springs from such an altruistic impulse. “Many artists are despicable people, chasing money, fame and fortune. I don’t think being an artist sets you up according to any sort of moral code in society.”
That said, however, “the self doesn’t crop up in creativity. The idea is to get rid of the self, of the ego. It’s not important. What’s important is that we’ve got eight billion people on the planet, and a billion and a half are hungry. What is important is to feed them.” Compared with the huge practical task of feeding humanity, he feels “a single artist’s vision is a minor thing.”
CREATIVITY AND SPIRITUALITY
Creativity, for Max, is inherently spiritual. “There’s got to be a central force, a core. There’s got to be an object towards which one is articulating narrative. There’s got to be something running the ship…” He points to spiritual stories as an integral part of any creative culture, citing examples from Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.
Like spiritual practice, creative practice takes dedication and discipline. “Willpower is important. If you haven’t harnessed your willpower, you’re not going to be a very significant artist.” By bringing discipline to bear, Max believes, “you can force ideas.” How? “You can have a time of day – rise at five or six and sit in an empty room for an hour and contemplate – and ideas will come. I travel with notebooks; I write ideas down. Ideas are to be taken quite seriously. You can’t have a work of art without a concept.” He also feels “it’s very important to stick to the point. I’m a spiritual painter and I stick to the point, so my paintings show gestural spirit in action on the move – basically moving up, ascending,” a recurring image of “the upside-down waterfall.”
According to Max, “all artists stand or fall on the unconscious. The unconscious delivers imagery to the conscious mind in dreams. You can’t analyse your dreams: you can record them and think about them, but you need to go to a psycho-analytical situation to get your dreams interpreted. I deal with the unconscious in painting by not thinking. All mind / no mind. No thinking allowed.” He uses the term (and technique) “one stroke bone, which is making the gesture without thinking about it. Loaded brush to unloaded.” This process of simply ‘doing’ is not his only method of generating work, however. Others include “talking to my staff of three (whom I’ve had for 16 years) about their ideas. They give me ideas. Other artists’ work give me ideas. Conscious mind is a tiny part. The unconscious is like an ocean we are floating on.”
CREATIVITY AND PATIENCE
“When the muse doesn’t arrive, you can do nothing but wait. You have to be patient. You can wait by going to the gym, by helping other people, by teaching, by writing instead of painting. I write a fair bit; I write poetry. It’s a bugger when the muse doesn’t come! The muse tends to come more regularly the older you get. The more you experience your art, the more you’re rewarded in the culture, the more you’re held up as somebody who is really an artist, the more you’re honoured, the more often the muse comes.”
Max sees that as people age, so does the work they produce. “The art is different every year. Art changes, just like your body changes and your thinking changes. Art can’t stay the same; that would be to make it static.” The search for the truth is lifelong.