Max Gimblett—The Open Road

Excerpt from exhibition catalogue, The Open Road:


'Max Gimblett is a national taonga. Having moved to New York in 1972 as a young adult, he has maintained strong ties with his homeland while building a life for himself in the USA. In normal times he would spend around a month of every year in Aotearoa, visiting more than 55 times since 1959. His last visit was in 2019.


Despite the turmoil of recent years, as many artists have found, periods of confinement and restriction have had an unexpected impact on his studio practice.  Without the distractions and the usual pressures of everyday life, Gimblett found renewed focus and ways of engaging with his practice. He was re-energized, and ultimately found this time highly productive. Inherent in this exhibition are the impacts of a culmination of changes over the last three years, in particular a new studio and newfound methods of working, both on his own and with his assistants.


The artist shared his thoughts on The Open Road with me over several video calls in the past months and I put some questions to him about what the past few years have been like, as an eighty-six-year-old New Zealander in New York.


Anna Jackson: This exhibition focuses specifically on recent works made in an unquestionably unique time in our history. A pandemic, global climate crisis, social restrictions, widening political views, a war…it is overwhelming.


Max Gimblett: Overwhelming is the right word. [My wife] Barbara pays very close attention to the news, listening to NPR most of her workday, and I get headlines from the New York Times and Washington Post in my inbox daily and read many of the articles. This has a tremendous impact on the painting, drawing, and work in my books.


AJ: New York was one of the initial epicenters of the pandemic as it first took hold. Can you tell me how the city changed and what the past two years have been like for you in day-to-day terms? Did these restrictions mean that you had to change the way that you worked?


MG: Barbara and I have stayed home the past two years and we see no change to that in the immediate future.


Initially, supplies were hard to come by. We weren’t certain which art supply stores would remain open, if I could get stretchers, panels, canvas, paper, paint, inks, and the rest. Online ordering and curbside delivery saved the day. With my assistants working from home in the early days I mostly worked on coloured ink drawings on paper, sumi ink drawings, and in my artist books, sketchbooks, and journals.


AJ: In 2019, just before the pandemic, you moved your home and studio to Broadway from the Bowery where you had been since the early 1970s. Although only a few blocks west across Manhattan, you have talked about this move being a difficult and challenging upheaval. Despite this, and the periods of lockdowns and restrictions, my feeling is that the move has profoundly impacted your practice – do you agree?


MG: This new loft is beautiful. Our light is now morning light whilst the Bowery was afternoon light—as I rise early this shift has been incredible. The new studio was organized with this fantastic light in mind.


At my age I need the help of my two extraordinary assistants, and I am working hard. Matt has been at my side twenty-two years, he is my rock, and Perry has worked with me for more than four years. During the early days of the pandemic they mostly worked from home, but they’re now in most days and painting has come back in a big way. The new paintings have made a tremendous leap forward incorporating new painting tools, new modes of applying leaf and new surfaces to paint on. I began using a pre-primed poly-cotton canvas—its smoothness has lowered resistance between the brush and the surface and affected my gestures. It’s exhilarating. Additionally, more recently we’ve had some guests come by, always with masks, and that has gotten us closer to the new normal.'


For the full text or to receive a complementary exhibition catalogue please contact the gallery.