Everybody can tell that Keith Andrew Palmer, better known by his stage name Maxim is an extraordinary musician and vocalist whose unique performing and songwriting skills have contributed to make the 1990s English electronic dance music band The Prodigy a planetary success with over 20 million records sold worldwide.
But what a few may still not be aware of is that this brilliant performer also has a knack for creating stunning mixed media artworks.
Under the pseudonym of MM, Maxim has been making highly sought-after prints, paintings and sculptures for decades now, building a recognisable trademark and a very unique style for his surreal fantasy world where no material or technique is 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 inimitable art focussed on the themes of 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 has always done in music mixing genres fearlessly, the man also knows no boundaries or labels when it comes to art.
Maxim has spoken with us about music, art, life, and what the band fans can expect after suffering the terrible loss of vocalist Keith Flint in 2019 to suicide.
The tragedy didn’t lead The Prodigy to split and they have said they intend to continue releasing music together – so, we will hopefully see the guys on stage soon.
After all, we are talking about a musical group that has reached number one in album charts literally all over the world, has sold out huge stadium tours, has grown into one of the pioneers of mainstream big beat and has received as many as 33 music awards.
The show must go on.
Maxim, how does your creative process start? Where do you get your inspiration from?
Inspiration comes from anywhere, really. You know, it could be watching a TV programme, but what I like to do especially is watching 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 for them.
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 insect, 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.
What techniques and materials do you feel most comfortable working with? Do you prefer painting, sculpturing or drawing?
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.
When did you first get into drawing? What age?
Well, 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, and I started this about 17 years ago. Literally, I started because I had some big white walls in my house, and I needed some art for my walls, and 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 as well 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 just mentioned stencils, and stencils mean Bansky for many. What do you think of Bansky? Do you like his art?
Oh, yeah, I love Bansky, 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.
How do you come up with names and titles for your pieces of art?
I don’t know, they just appear. What I always do is to always take pictures of my creative process. I take a picture, and I live with it. And I look at the pictures on 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.
What are your main influences in art, music and life, generally speaking?
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 something about yourself when you paint in silence, you always learn something about yourself while you paint in silence, and I love that feeling.
Don’t you ever listen to music while you paint?
Yes, sure, 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 musical in these cases and even when I drive I turn the radio on a station called Classic FM.
What do you think of today’s music? Do you think there’s still a future for electronic dance music?
Of course, music is always evolving, and as much as it is evolving, inspiration comes always 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 a 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 which is bad, and if you look at the situation now with the pandemic, that’s where good music comes out because people are stuck into situations and get creative, and that’s where the good things come out.
What achievements are you most proud of, at this stage in your career?
Um… I don’t really know! Let me see… um.. achievements…
You are too zen to know, are you?
Haha, well, 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”, you know? I love what I did and it obviously had a big impact in 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 would it take them to stick together?
Honestly, for a band to stick together it takes to get 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 into 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.
Are you going to record something new with The Prodigy in the near future? What should fans expect?
We don’t really know because of the situation in the world at the moment with the Covid pandemic. Obviously, we’ve been in the studio and people know as they saw this on social media, but to make a tour again, with this pandemic, who knows, you just have to take one day after the other now, you can’t really look forward in the future and be like “Oh, in 2022 I’ll do this…”. Despite this I’m still enjoying my life, you can’t let the outside taking you, but then obviously, it is a tough situation for a lot of people, and a lot of people have passed away, but for those who are still here, you have to enjoy today because it’s all about today. Just enjoy today and make the most out of today. That’s where I am now, who knows what’s going to happen in 2021 or 2022?
Anything else at all you would like to add? New projects, new plans?
Yeah, sure. As I said, because of the current situation, I’m actually doing a lot more painting and I’m really into sculptures at the moment. I’m actually working on a sculpture with a friend. I can’t really say too much, because this friend is an artist as well, but it’s quite a big, big sculpture. Just check out my website and my Instagram page to see what ideas are flowing out soon!
★ If you are equally into music and art, also check the interviews with John Steel of The Animals, Imelda May, Prince’s musical director of 20 years Morris Hayes and Tommy Siegel