Keith Andrew Palmer, better known by his stage name Maxim is a musician and vocalist whose unique performing and songwriting skills have contributed to making the 1990s English electronic dance music band The Prodigy a planetary success with over 20 million records sold.
Keith also has a knack for creating mixed media artworks and has been making prints, paintings and sculptures under the pseudonym of MM for decades now. Over the years, he developed a recognisable trademark and a unique style for his surreal fantasy world, where no techniques or materials are forbidden: the visionary singer-turned-artist uses everything from acrylic, spray paint, resin, ceramics and bronze to everyday and unexpected items like pills, blades, needles and bullets to create original art about strength, love and freedom.
From sculptures of gun-toting cats to paintings with clown-faced and skull-faced butterflies brandishing Samurai swords: just like what he does in music mixing genres up, Maxim also knows no boundaries when it comes to art.
In this interview, Keith speaks music, art, life, and what fans of The Prodigy can expect after suffering the terrible loss of vocalist Keith Flint to suicide in 2019.
The tragedy didn’t lead the band to split and they have said they intend to continue making music and touring. After all, we are talking about first-class performers that reached number one in album charts literally all over the world, sold out huge stadium tours, have grown into one of the pioneers of mainstream big beat and have received dozens of music awards.
The show must go on.
Keith, what’s the future of electronic dance music?
Music is always evolving, and as much as it is evolving, inspiration always comes from the past. In Africa, for example, electronic music is getting bigger and bigger. And I see connections in pop music too, in some respects, because electronic dance is just such joyous music, it’s about enjoyment – that’s what I like. There will always be new music, even when you think it’s finished, and music has always come out to be good out of a situation that is bad, and if you look and what the world was like during the pandemic, that’s where good music came out because people were stuck into situations and got creative, and that’s where the good things come out.
What achievements are you most proud of?
Um… I don’t really know! Let me see… um.. achievements… let me see… I really enjoyed being in The Prodigy and touring the world, bringing music to people and opening people’s eyes to the music we created. I’m not into accolades or things like “I did that, I did this”, I love what I did and it obviously had a big impact on music, but I’m not about the glorification, I’m just happy that I did it. And you know, sometimes when you look back and you think “Oh, I did that”, it makes you feel like you’re finished – and I’m not finished! There’s always more to enjoy, there’re always more things to learn!
Do you believe a band could potentially never split? What does it take to stick together?
Honestly, for a band to stick together it takes getting rid of ego, because when you’re in a band, it’s all about egos, it’s lots of egos thrown in a bucket. Once you understand the ego, and you can get through that part, I tell you, that’s where a band sticks together. Because when you’re in a band, you think you are the best band in the world, you have to think you’re the best band in the world, otherwise, there’s no point being in a band. And you have to think that you’re the best performer in the world, because if you don’t believe that, you would just leave the stage. There’s an element of ego in there, but when you’re in a band you’ve got to control that ego.
Who has most influenced you in music and life?
I don’t really have that many influences. Maybe I can say that being zen is my influence in life, I’m always striving to see that every day we live is a lesson and we can better ourselves in some way or another. And you know, my inspiration in trying to better myself, trying to live a more peaceful life, trying to live a full life, and when I say that it is not about materialism in any shape or form, it’s about inner peace and understanding myself. So I’d say zen, as this is what I want to be, I’m someone who knows himself, and that’s the biggest goal, to understand yourself, and take the journey of life to understand yourself. That’s probably my inspiration, and the thing with paintings is that paintings open up your ideas and your thoughts. It teaches you something about yourself when you paint in silence, you always learn something about yourself while you paint in silence, and I love that feeling. Then, well, when I’m not painting in silence I’m listening to music, and it’s mostly classical music, instrumental music and blues because sometimes words can change everything, so I prefer classical music in these cases and even when I drive I turn the radio on a station called Classic FM.
Who are your favourite artists?
I like Hieronymus Bosch and Salvador Dalí. Hieronymus Bosch is quite dark in his art, he is all about heaven and hell, and I suppose my art is quite similar, it’s about heaven and hell and, as I said, taking good things and taking bad things and making them good. But you know, in the end, all my art is positive art, there’s nothing negative in what I do. If you see the butterfly paintings with the butterflies killing other insects, this may give some people the negative idea that butterflies are evil. Well, no, no, no – they’re looking at the wrong context, I’m defending themselves and it’s also a metaphor for good over evil because butterflies are seen in society as a gentle insects, so it’s almost like they’re rising up and standing up for themselves and you know – standing up for good. That’s the whole idea behind that.
How do you title your paintings?
I don’t know, titles just appear. What I always do is always take pictures of my creative process. I take a picture, and I live with it. And I look at the pictures in the background, and I live with all that for days, and then I got back in creative mode, and take more pictures, and it develops. And once the images and paintings are finished, I just look at them and a name appears, and it could be anything – whatever that painting says to me. You know, inspiration comes from anywhere, really: it could be watching a TV programme, but what I like to do especially is watch surreal films and other surreal artists, like Hieronymus Bosch and things like that. My art is kind of surreal art, I like to take things out of their context and put them into another setting, just mixing two opposites together to create something surreal and a bit unreal. It is like taking two negatives and making them into a positive or something like that – this is what I like to do. And also, just to be more creative and a bit thought-provoking, I like to make people look at the art and stir their emotions and let them decide for themselves what the art means to them.
What techniques and materials do you prefer?
I could say it’s all about mixed media for me so I can use any material, from charcoal to syringes, and I’ve also got bullets which I’ve used. I use anything which comes to mind but I’m kind of getting into sculptures at the moment. I don’t make them myself, you know, I don’t sit in with a lump of clay and mould them, but I just got these ideas which present themselves as sculptures, I’ve got three sculptures on the way at the moment, which are really good and yeah, I can’t wait to get them done. But you know, I don’t see myself as what they call a traditional artist, whatever that means. I don’t know, really – art can be anything. When I was younger, I used to be able to draw with a pencil and copy really well. But I can’t, you know, I’m not like someone who can portray someone sitting there and be a portrait artist, or copy somebody… I’m just the creator of a mishmash. I was into art when I was like 13 or 14 years old – I was really into art but it was just at school, you know, and I only got back into doing art as what I do now. I started this in the early 2000s. Literally, I started because I had some big white walls in my house, and I needed some art for my walls, so I went to the Affordable Art Fair in London. I went down there with my wife to get some art. I paid my fee, I went into four blocks, I looked around and I was like “Ok, I can do that”, and so I planned for that, I got some canvases, I got back home and I did some colour wash for the walls. It was literally just colour wash, nothing special – I did that, put them on the walls and a few friends came around and asked where I’d got those paintings from, and then they asked me to do some paintings for them, and I was like “Sure!”. And then I’ve got a friend of mine who is a curator and took me to some artists’ houses, and she introduced me to some really big artists who showed me all these different techniques. And I was like, wow – so you can use stencils, you can use charcoal, you can use crayons… I hadn’t realised that you could use so many different things, so I went back home and got very creative.
You have just mentioned stencils, and stencils mean Banksy. What do you think of his art?
Oh, yeah, I love Banksy, he’s a true innovator, he takes contemporary art to a whole next level. And it’s really weird how contemporary art is today – because you can go to a contemporary art gallery and get a contemporary painting made out of stencils for £8.000 or £9.000, and then you can see an oil painting which was done in the 1950s by an artist and which is really, really detailed, and it is selling for £2.000. I’m a contemporary artist, and people like Bansky have just started what we are like today and made us credible.
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