As an aesthetic style that has fascinated me for a good time now, I’ve recently had a keen desire to delve further into the entanglement of the art movement known as Maximalism.
Maximalism, a term claimed to be popularized by the German artist Daryush Shokof in 1990, is - from what I can see - a reactionary art movement to the reductive and minimal works found in Minimalism. Maximalism is everything and anything, a chaotic mess of botanicals, filigree, silhouetted forms of the figure, it can be erotic, ironic, humorous, politically aware in it’s narrative, or it can be completely void of narrative. It can be surrealistic, realistic, symbolic, or purely decorative in its decadent visual jungle of stuff. In her book Maximalism: The Graphic Design of Decadence and Excess (2008), Charlotte Rivers describes how “maximalism celebrates richness and excess,” characterized by decoration, sensuality, luxury, and fantasy. In his Maximalist Manifesto (1991), Shokof explains that the movement is “open to wide views and visionary dimensions that can be fantastic, but not deformed.” Personally, I see the movement as one of visual delight that appeals to the senses – a complex state of work that demands the attention and interaction from the viewer.
Noted, though, should be the movement’s lack of opposition to Minimalism. Whereas Minimalism simply states “less is more”, Maximalism boisterously asks why more can’t be more – without really pointing fingers of damnation at its predecessor. It’s this “more is more” attitude though, that gives Maximalism its distinct and vibrant maximal aesthetic. Shokof also wrote in his Manifesto: “Unbalancing the chaos = Balance = Life = Maximalism.” I wish I could deduce what this means exactly, and other than just thinking it sounds cool, I really do think it holds some key to understanding Maximalism a little bit more.
Though Maximalism can currently be found most in recent graphic designs and illustrations, I wanted to find examples of the movement specifically within the fine art realm of painting. Rachel Thornton, for The Florida State University Museum of Fine Art, wrote in Maximalist Painting: “More is More” that
Maximalist painting is not always an overload of stuff on the canvas but it should always create a sense of complexity. Whether the narrative or conceptual in design, Maximalist painting should involve a complex image that results in a complex response to the painting.
In looking for artists that represent this aesthetic to me, I’ve stumbled upon a few that are especially and perfectly exemplary (all are contemporary artists as well).
First up is Julie Heffernan. Her pieces are a profusion of Rococo and Baroque imagery, filled with fruits and luxurious fabrics and crystal chandeliers and chateaus, and rugs and baubles, and birds, and figures and botanicals and flowers – it really goes on forever, as does my little hoard of imagery on file. Her work is delicious and abundant in every sense, and what I love about Maximalism. More is more is more is more is forever more with her work.
Daniel Merriam is another artist that I greatly admire for the Maximalist qualities in his work. His fantasy worlds and dreamscapes are opalescent and brilliant all at once. There is always a million things going on in his pieces, and are literally dripping with jewel tones and symbolism.
Thornton, Rachel. Maximalist Painting: “More is More”, The Flordia State University Museum of Fine Arts
Rivers, Charlotte. Maximalism: The Graphic Design of Decadence & Excess
Gabriel from Oh Look. blog: Maximalism is Coming Back