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Interview: Maxime Jean Lefebvre's Razzle Dazzle

Interview: Maxime Jean Lefebvre's Razzle Dazzle

Lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

I was born and raised in France, right outside of Paris. I wasn’t really the typical creative child and art was not talked about as a viable career path in my family. I started thinking about going to art school when I was 15, but it was only after a very long first year in law school that my parents agreed to let me pursue a career in visual arts. They really came around and are now my biggest supporters.

Amphora (Lysol), slipcast stoneware, glaze and luster, 10x7,5x4 inches, 2021

What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

I did my undergrad in Bourges, a small city in the middle of France. I fell in love with printmaking there, more specifically silkscreen. I had a lot of freedom to experiment and was also working with ceramics. I decided to move to America to pursue my MFA in Printmaking at RISD. I took a slipcasting class and it was a major revelation. It shares this idea of multiples that I love about prints, but in a sculptural manner. The way I paint in the plaster molds before casting them is very reminiscent of monotypes, and ties back to printmaking.

Grayson Perry, Shopping for Meaning, Glazed ceramic, 2019

What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

The early years of my practice were centered around found images and history. I was brought to a lot of museums as a kid and was fascinated by ancient civilizations. This impulse never left me but gradually narrowed down to important moments in popular culture. I started focusing on images that shaped history and have had a long-lasting impact on our visual vocabulary. Now, I am focusing on images of armed conflicts, ranging from the Civil War to the War on Terror.

Amphora (Arm & Hammer), slipcast stoneware, glaze and luster, 10x8x4 inches, 2021

Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

Early on, my biggest sources of inspiration were artists from the Pictures Generation (Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine) and their predecessors like John Baldessari. I still look at conceptual artists like Jenny Holzer and Taryn Simon, but my interest has slowly shifted towards multidisciplinary artists like Grayson Perry and Laura Owens.

Amphora (Purex), slipcast stoneware, glaze and luster, 9,5x11x6 inches, 2021

Where do you find inspiration?

I watched a lot of American movies and series growing up. When I moved to Providence, it felt like I was allowed backstage. The most mundane things felt so exciting and brand new. I got the inspiration for my current series as I was walking the aisles of Walmart, in the detergent section. As one does!

Studio view, 2019

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

I would say my current series of amphoras. This is a body of work that I will keep exploring for a long time, and I am excited to see the many forms it will take.

Amphora (Old Tide), slipcast stonewar, raku, 10x8x5 inches, 2021

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

It began in grad school, the very first rendition of the project were urns with silkscreened transfers. After I graduated, I was tired of working with images and wanted to get better at slipcasting. I started making dozens of casts of detergent bottles and applied different textures and grid to them. I tried to introduce a camo pattern on a milk gallon at that time, but it just didn’t work. After several series, I started to deconstruct the forms and collaged two halves together. They turned into amphoras; I kept playing with colorful grids and glazes before going back to the camouflage patterns, and it just clicked.

Studio view (A-HA moment), 2020

What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

The most important one is to trust my instinct and to keep going. The series felt exciting at first, redundant soon after and like a straight up gimmick towards the end. But I kept pushing because I felt like there was something more there, something yet to be discovered. I think I’m only halfway there, there is much more to do, but I will keep experimenting until it feels right.

Commemorative Urn, silkscreen transfer on ceramic, glaze and luster, 2018

Amphora #1, glazed ceramic, 2021 

What are you working on now?

I am working on a new series of vessels inspired by razzle dazzle, a type of camouflage patterns used on boats mostly during WWI.

Amphora #2, glazed ceramic, 2021

If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?

Don’t try to control the current, just do your best to navigate it. It will lead you where you need to be. And be kind to yourself!

Installation view, Newport Art Museum, 2021

About the Artist

Based in Providence, Rhode Island

Maxime Jean Lefebvre was born and raised in France. He started experimenting with ceramics early on, and was brought to a lot of history museums as a youngster. After graduating from the École Nationale Supérieure d’Art de Bourges, he moved to America to pursue his MFA in Printmaking at Rhode Island School of Design. Maxime is inspired by systems of power and his experience as a foreigner in America. Through his current body of ceramic work, he is exploring relationships between commerce, history and the everyday familiar. He is currently a resident in ceramics at the Steel Yard in Providence.

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