There is something poetic in Max Gardénia‘s work, nostalgic, dreamy and emotional that reminds us of French illustrators of the Belle Époque. The artist in heart, an illustrator in mind, he moved to Paris to follow his inner calling, to become a creative director of a perfumery. The eye has to wander; the artist has to travel in order to satisfy his ever hungry soul, for inspiration, affirmation, and to step on the road of creative desire that many walked before, bearing the same ideas, hopes and fears. We spoke with him what is really like to navigate the art scene in the City of (blinding) Lights?
Tell us something about your background…
I am a thoroughbred Londoner. I studied at Central Saint Martins and left with two portfolios of work. None of them illustration. From my earliest memories art and perfumery has played a huge part in my life and work. I’ve been lucky enough to discover arts and perfumes from a very early age. Perfume certainly was and still is my cocaine. And judging from my earliest drawings I’ve always wanted to work in the perfume/cosmetics industry in a creative role. I know nothing else.
What originally made you want to become an illustrator?
I didn’t. Although I love illustration, I fell into it by accident. I always drew ideas for cosmetic advertising but with encouragement I took it further. I actually don’t see myself as a modern-day “illustrator”. Neither do illustration agents. That’s why I don’t have an agent and also that’s why I’ve been labeled artist. But in reality there is not much difference except illustrators I know certainly have more drawing skill.
How would you describe your illustration style?
Artistically it’s certainly of another time, namely the Belle Époque but I’ve been told it is very modern also. God knows. I prefer to hear and understand the outsiders point of view rather than my own. Especially those who don’t work in the arts.
Please tell us about your technique.
This is what I love about creating. It’s fucking amazing, all these materials we have, especially coloured pigmented wets and drys. From make-up to all sorts of paint and pastels and metallics. I love using golds in my work. I love details, and I feel that’s what I am known for now. It’s all trial and error, and it takes time, especially when using pastels and make-up, but the final piece is usually worth the wait.
Who has been the biggest influence on your work?
Neil, Maria and Matthew from college. I learnt through them the power of photography, typography, art, film and graphic design. Although I grew up with art around me, they showed me where the references came from. Nothing is new anymore. I also learnt how to do graphic design the old-fashioned way by hand. No computers. A dead man’s skill, but certainly a great one that’s sadly redundant. Apart from that it’s my experiences with people, either good or bad, that have had an effect on my personal artistic output in recent years.
How did your artistic approach change over the years?
Well, certainly I’ve not listened to the illustration agencies to use computer programs. And yes, I’ve brought on troubles for myself by getting evermore detailed. But that’s what makes my work mine. We should all care for the details I think. The junk that we get fed now is criminal. Lack of research, skill and care is amazing, but then what do you expect from art schools nowadays? These basic Cocteau-esque works and computer generated works we get fed now just don’t cut it. It’s there for the trend, convenience and the time of the client and not for the art.
What inspires you?
Perfumey and all that surrounds it. The reason I draw is because of perfume.
Are you always inspired?
No. I was, but life takes you to other places where survival comes before art. I’ve not had the luxury of time to be inspired in the past year, unfortunately. When I have, it’s been wonderful through.
What are some of your proudest career moments so far?
It’s coming. I am sure of it.
What was the biggest obstacle or difficulty for you and how did you navigate around it?
Homelessness. I’ve dealt with it before, and it still scares the shit out of me. Being homeless young man in the United Kingdom is absolute hell. You are literally there to fend for yourself. No state help. Britain’s shame. One among many. Have I fully navigated around it? No. Stability is what I really crave, but sadly still don’t have it.
Is it important to have an agent?
If you can handle your own affairs than no. If not, an agent would be great. Although some artist friends of mine through their experiences would say otherwise. An agency takes anything between 10-30% depending on the project. They shouldn’t be asking for any money from the artist/illustrator like these fake modeling agencies do. If they do, then they are criminals no matter how big they are. The artist is already making them a lot of money, and the final fee the artist gets is tuppence. Illustrators don’t make the money they once made during the golden age of commercial illustration. I certainly wouldn’t encourage my child to get into this industry.
How would you describe Paris art scene of today?
I can only speak for my line of art. I feel the French in general have a lot of respect for a hand crafted work and an emphasis on illustration and graphic design. It’s one of the reasons I moved to Paris. Old signage, magazines and plaques are abundant. Here you have galleries, archives and shops dedicated to graphic design and illustration. It’s truly wonderful. They take pride in their historical importance as well as their beauty.
Why is Paris a good place for an illustrator?
People here in the art world, not always but in general, seem to be nicer to me. More welcoming then my fellow Englishmen. Apart from that and the reasons I already mentioned, Paris is a living museum. The architecture and all its details really strike me. It’s had a great influence on me and led me to create another portfolio of work inspired by the patterns of Parisian architecture.
What is the biggest challenge of working in a city like Paris?
Like most cities it’s expensive and I can barely afford to live here but I feel that right now I must.
If you could choose any brand to work for which would you pick?
I’d love to do a cover for The New Yorker. But who doesn’t.
Where do you see yourself in another 10 years?
Honestly, destitute or as a creative director of a perfumery.
Vesna Filipovic and Vukota Brajovic for Fashionela