semantikon feature artist

Mar/Apr 2005
Max Skeans

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max skeans, dayton ohio. photographer, silver prints for sale, ap, military, professor, teacher, dayton ohio, b/w photography, silver print photography
max skeans feature artist
max skeans photo

One of the mainstays of thought during the 20th Century was there is nothing new, just rearrangements of what is known. Consequently, innovation slowly replaced invention as the rolling mill of human creativity. Due, in part, to philosophical movements such as postmodernism and linguistic deconstruction, the notion of ‘excellence’ was devalued to an egalitarian state of mind for the past thirty-five years and supported with fuzzy logic-based arguments dressed in the trappings of global relativism and stoicism.

From the more than three decades of philosophical self-indulgence there is a social timbre of prior restraint targeting the fine arts much as social pressure fought to keep Tropic Of Cancer and Catcher In The Rye out of public libraries in the 1950’s. While philosophy and politics can obscure, or, dissolve meaning, through words, the power of the visual arts remains powerful enough to raise the ire of any who cannot control artists.

While controlling artists is a futile obsession for those in position of authority, controlling the galleries and museums has worked to squelch many young artists opportunity to exhibit work. An example of ‘controlling and censoring’ what is exhibited, the Dayton Art Institute’s Edward Weston exhibit in 2003-2004 only had one minor nude by the photographer known for his figural work. Dayton wants its art ‘safe’ and lowers the aesthetic bar to accommodate those with a chronic neurotic reaction to any form of nudity.

There seems to be a positive correlation between the lack of aesthetic valuation of art in Dayton and the general lack of aesthetic concern in the city’s structures. Residents and visitors who view the city from ground level or from several stories above will see a city so lacking in color it resembles two day-old gruel. This, coupled with a depressed economy, presents the city as a good place to leave. There are many communities in the Midwest sharing Dayton’s plight and I do consider this when making images for more general appeal

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APRIL 2005: Updated Feature: Selections from Skeans tentatively titled work in progress Daytin', Ohio
TITLE: Dayton', Ohio # | 2005
TITLE: Dayton', Ohio # | 2005
TITLE: Dayton', Ohio # | 2005
max skeans daytin', ohio 1
max skeans daytin', ohio 2
max skeans daytin', ohio 3
TITLE: Dayton', Ohio # | 2005
TITLE: Dayton', Ohio # | 2005
TITLE: Dayton', Ohio # | 2005
max skeans daytin', ohio 4
max skeans daytin', ohio 5
max skeans daytin', ohio 6
TITLE: Dutchman| 1997
TITLE: Paxil | 2004
TITLE: Heart Shaped Box | 2004
max skeans dutchman
max skeans paxil
max skeans heart shaped box
TITLE: Aftershock | 2004
TITLE: Ashley's Mom | 1988
TITLE: Tour de France | 2005
max skeans aftershock
max skeans ashleys mom
max skeans tour de france
TITLE: April Dream | 1994
TITLE: Bill | 1987
TITLE: Eric's Time | 1993
max skeans april dream
max skeans bill
max skeans eric's time
TITLE: The Pope's MIG | 2002
TITLE: Love Tree | 1998
TITLE: Widow | 2001
max skeans the pope's mig
max skeans love tree
max skeans widow

25 Light Years From Home (Picking Up The Pieces) is my ongoing opus which chronicles the social changes and attitudes from 1970 to present. ‘Picking Up The Pieces’ is a dual reference to The Ramones song, Bonzo Goes To Bitburg and the misapplication of philosophy (postmodernism and deconstruction) in social policy decisions. The visual record starts with my Vietnam experience and carries through this moment.

My interest is in the inventive aspect of all creative endeavors. As a visual artist working in the gelatine silver print media, I take liberties with photography’s inherent, literal ‘truth’ to present a fictive truth much as a writer does with words. The delicate process of creating an image which allows the viewer to experience the familiar with the new, and, perhaps, question points of views previously held, is where most of the work takes place.

Most art is visual fiction which facilitates, as Immanuel Kant observed, an experience enhances the capacity of cognitive and metaphysical processes. Some art tends to challenge and provoke while some remains derivative to past traditions and styles.

Within that context, art is what I do and, as the images suggest, I am not predisposed to view art as a religion or a belief system. I work with art as state of mind free from doctrines and systems which tend to abject creativity and control all which is distinctly human.

My images are the result of my personal experiences as well as those of others. *Coffee Rings (1987) was a pivotal image in that it recorded a nude in the early morning, Florida sunlight, and, a few days later after the negative was processed the same lady accidentally sat her coffee cup on the protected 4x5-inch negative leaving ‘heat’ circles on the film. After printing the image I chose to ‘damage’ the negative thoroughly to the degree of resembling a painting or intaglio print.

From that time to present my tools have been sharp objects, inks, dyes, bleaches, sandpaper, brushes, tapes, two Dremel tools, the floor, my cat’s litter box, two computers, and a couple of ancient view cameras which should be allowed to be stored in any handicapped parking space.

I pick up pieces of ideas wherever I am. Wales (1992) features a daffodil from my grandmother’s funeral. Three Muses (1992) includes objects, as well as the photograph, found beneath my 140-year old home’s bathroom floor. The Pope’s MIG (2002) was a response to the former Soviet Union selling a vast amount of weapons abroad. Why shouldn’t the Pope have a MIG?

Responding to my personal life’s problems is also fair game as Dissolution (2004) and Losing Karen (2004) are visual responses where verbal language fails to convey the depths of spiritual feelings. Love Tree (1998) is an image showing the problem of showing love to a person while harming a tree. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

There is a distinct vulnerability I accept when creating an image. It takes a certain amount of courage and fear to take a blank sheet of photographic paper and print something no one else has ever made. A quarter cup of arrogance is helpful at times. The ultimate point of vulnerability is reached when the image has been finished and I realize it will be shown and, possibly, sold. That is also the time where my personal investment in the image fades as it takes on a life and future all its own much like a child leaving home.

While I am responsible for the ideas and the resulting manifestation of those ideas within an image, I am quite ambivalent to a particular response to the image. There are many reasons for this including a calloused attitude to critical - formal and otherwise - analysis of the work. There isn’t much I have to say about responses since I’ve done my job to provoke the responses and giving all the clues I was willing to give for specific or vague meaning. From there, it is the viewer’s task to invest some effort.

My main subject matter is the human nude with equal attention to the male and female figure; those images can never be shown in Dayton. A well intentioned lady summed up why that will never happen when she commented, “Max, you have to understand that most people here haven’t lived in San Francisco, New York City, or Miami, and your images bother them.”

‘Bothering’ people is one of art’s functions, but, the art must be shown and seen to be properly evaluated for its merits or lack thereof.

The figural content takes many twists and turns which can move from the domestic setting as seen in Eric’s Time (1993), the more private and reflective as in First Person, Singular (1999), the more erotic use of the figure as found in Jamaica (2001), and everything else in between those points. The one unifying aspect to the nudes in 25 Light Years is they are all part of a story not the story themselves.

One of the new tools available to artists is the internet. Just within the past few years computers and high-speed internet service has enabled artists to join the writers in showing their work to a world-wide audience. The commercial potential also allows each artist to be a self-promoter simply by meta-tagging their websites for search engines.

There are, however, problems facing artists on the internet. Some website hosts do not allow any nudity – fine art or otherwise – on their websites. There are also ‘watchdog’ groups who make it difficult to have an art website accepted by many search engines. These issues, and others, are mere inconveniences circumvented by creativity.

As this project continues I have found myself adopting a similar production pattern used by Walt Whitman in his opus, Leaves of Grass. Constant revisions and inclusions of past work is a daily chore as well as producing new work. My favorite image is always the one I am working on at the moment. The final form and content of 25 Light Years From Home will be known only after I have exited the darkroom for the last time.

Then, someone else can pick up the pieces.

Max Skeans
March 2005

*Images referred to not shown here can be seen at