In the age of digital media, the Toronto-based artist Maxwell N. Burnstein sees the importance of preserving traditional collage techniques, using only an x-acto knife, tape and glue to construct artwork of complex compositions by hand. In the interview with ELLE Singapore, the self-taught artist shares his creative process and thoughts on this exquisite analog artistry.
Who is Maxwell N. Burnstein?
I’m a Toronto-based artist preserving traditional collage techniques by using an x-acto knife, tape and glue. I’m a self-taught artist and by employing various techniques such as creative direction, sourcing photography and using an x-acto knife to cut paper by hand I’m able to create surrealist art that references fashion and beauty as well as social, historical and cultural issues.
What is the starting point of you as an artist and why did you choose collage as an art form?
When I was growing up in Halifax, Nova Scotia I was greatly influenced by my bedroom which had collaged walls of various magazine clippings I had collected and it inspired me to pursue a career as an artist. Initially, when I started creating artwork it was more of a hobby. Eventually, when I started to see more digital artists rise and appear on Instagram it gave me the momentum to create artwork by preserving analog techniques in digital spaces, expanding upon my childhood dreams to create digital, print and product artworks as well as displays that appeared in museums.
Who are some artists, designers or fashion figures that have influenced your work?
In the vast world of fashion, I look to artists such as Monique Baumann, Patrick Waugh, Rebecca Coltori and Rosanna Jones who are pushing the boundaries of analog collage art from within the industry. Each of these inspirational creatives has developed newfound ways to devise analog collages and therefore have set new precedents that have been globally recognized. As an artist in this day and age, I also value the importance of community and strongly believe in preserving the traditional techniques across digital and new media.
Your works have a strong connection not only between art and fashion but with social, climate and political issues as well. What is the inherent message you are trying to convey to your audiences?
My fine artworks are a tool to educate audiences on the difficult subject matter through illusions that can feel personal. The series Mi Amor received global attention for expressing environmental changes in Spain that I created after travelling through the country. It’s important for viewers to reflect on their role in today’s society and find ways to engage in political, racial and environmental change. The intention of the artwork is to create a personal experience that helps the viewer understand the changes happening around them.
With the rise of collage artistry and other digital art forms over social media, what do you think is behind the success of your handmade artworks in captivating audiences and most importantly, people from the fashion industry?
What makes my artwork stand out is that fact that each piece I create possesses an illusionary quality to it. Through a series of refined techniques that includes distorting landscapes, translating fashion trends, finding new product features and creating layered fashion editorials my work stems from creating an otherworldly universe that fuses both reality and fantasy together. Over the years, my work has taken on various new forms by the use of incorporating dimensional collages, cleaner and precise lines, complex compositions and purposeful ideation that bring these concepts to life.
What are the challenges you faced as an artist? And what do you find most rewarding when it comes to creating art?
As an artist who is continually evolving and pursuing new forms of art in a competitive environment, I’ve had challenges or rather periods throughout my career that made me question my own abilities as a creative. In order to overcome this way of thinking, I’ve chosen to focus on the positive aspects and look at the opportunities that have been granted to me. Being an artist in today’s current climate is no easy feat, but I believe with persistence and dedication I’ve been successful in overcoming these barriers.
Moving forward, how do you see your work evolving? What are your next steps?
I’m constantly exploring new mediums and forms of art that will allow me to creatively express topical issues that persist within the fashion industry as well as social, cultural and historical issues. My intention with the art I create has always been to allow the viewer to understand a new perspective of what is being presented to them and I hope over time, my work will be able to tackle vital issues that are occurring around the world. As I continue to grow, I would like my work to expand into fine art collages and sculptures that will hopefully one day appear in fine art institutions.
Check out some of Burnstein’s works below:
A version of this story was first published in ELLE Singapore’s June 2020 issue.