Maximiliano León studied painting (Expanded pictorial space) under Daniel Richter at the Academy of Fine Arts and Art History at the University of Vienna.
León’s body of work focuses on the issues of the search for his own identity due to growing up in a multicultural environment - Mexico and Austria.
He utilizes Austrian and Mexican cultural symbols in his works to explore and play with topics such as globalization, colonialism, pop culture, music, history, and his ancestry.
He concentrates on the connections between the two countries, such as the emperor Maximilian I of Mexico with whom he shares the same name.
Maximiliano uses oil color because it fits best for creating spontaneously expressive and disfigured shapes in his paintings, yet his intention is to rebuild the image rather than to destroy it.
In his plastic work, he mainly concentrates on pop culture icons and colonization. His work has been exhibited internationally, e.g. in Tokyo, Dubai, Mexico City, Tijuana, Vienna, and Berlin.
I was born in Mérida, but also grew up in Chicxulub Puerto, where my mother’s family is from, in Yucatán, Mexico.
In Chicxulub I actually also grew up with my godparents. My godfather is a painter, and my godmother (who sadly passed away in the 90s,) was a photographer and the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the International Center of Photography in New York.
I started drawing and painting when I was about 4 years old; I really loved drawing at their place, and my Godmother always brought me some good crayons and colored pencils from New York, since you couldn’t get good ones in Yucatán back in the days.
The first source of inspiration was at the house of one of my uncles. He had a high-quality canvas print of the Mona Lisa painting in his house in Chicxulub, and this reproduction was hanging in the guest room, where we stayed when we visited him. I couldn’t stop looking at it, I was fascinated by the eyes.
The second source of inspiration was Mexican food. I remember playing around with my food and the salsa. I loved playing with its texture and mixing up the colors.
When we moved to Vienna I became part of the Mozart Boys Choir and started to sing at opera houses too. I’ve always loved music and art, and I never could decide what I love more.
So after my grandfather died, I decided to quit music and painting in order to try out everything the university’s had to offer that was kind of interesting to me.
I started to study Economics, which was a huge fail, it was super boring. Afterward, I started to study Roman languages, Theater Film and Media Sciences, Psychology, etc. but never finished any of them.
After some long years, I started to draw again and decided to study Art History.
And it went really fast from not drawing and painting for ages to then applying to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, working as the assistant of an Austrian Painter, and since then I knew for sure that I can’t leave art anymore, it changed my whole point of view on life.
In the 2010s I went to Mexico City, because I never felt really at home in Austria, and I wanted to find out how I feel about Mexico as an adult.
It was like second puberty: I did everything, I lost everything, I gained everything, I felt everything in a very intense way, and I felt more at home in Mexico’s Capital than in Vienna, even though Mexico City is very different from Mérida.
Everything that happened in those years (3 earthquakes, cases of death, getting robbed and losing a tooth due to that, losing everything, being homeless, being forced to find solutions) all of that made me change my way of thinking and it made me find a new way how to paint.
By coincidence, I found little wooden panels that were very cheap, and so I started to paint on those small 15 x 10 cm panels.
While I started to paint the most obvious connection between the two countries, the Habsburg emperor of Mexico, Maximiliano I. de México, I got more and more interested in history, and the connections between Mexico and Austria.
And that’s where I found what inspired me the most at the beginning: the portraits of the European monarchs, especially the Habsburg.
Old school painting. Velazquez, Goya, Van Dyck, etc. As you can see, the whole process of my work has to do mainly with history, therefore I produce paintings that represent exactly that.
Later I got interested in products, they're history, and the connections to colonialism, etc. That was the reason why I started with my first objects: beer bottles, portrait busts, different objects which mostly represent certain products.
Currently, I’m going back to also paint on bigger canvases. I’m trying out to work on different materials, but maybe I’ll stick to the small wooden panels. But not forever. I don’t like standing still, I want to stay alive, to continue.
My newest works are bigger in size: the one at Carbon 12 in Dubai measures 100x80 cm, and the other one at Bode Projects in Berlin measures 150x120 cm.
I also started to try out new things to paint and draw with, such as AirBrush and Pencils.
Due to corona, I don’t know which project is going to be the next one, to be honest. So many exhibitions have been postponed. I’m working on some exhibitions in Mexico City, Tokyo and another one in Europe.
But I don’t like to talk too much about unfinished things. Every action speaks more than words.
The only project that still continues, is my curatorial project called OFFSHOREd (@offshored_). It is a platform for exchange in the art world between Austria/Europe and Mexico.
The last exhibition was in Mexico City, at the exhibition rooms of Biquini Wax EPS, an outstanding Art Collective from Mexico City.
I organized and curated this exhibition with the incomparable Austrian art association New Jörg.
My aim with this project is to create a stronger bridge between Mexico and Austria, and for both sides to get to know each other’s culture better and to support each other.
Homepage: Maximiliano Leon
Instagram: maximiliano leon
Carbon 12, Dubai (AE) | 1.12. 2020 – 14.1. 2021
Berlin (DE) | 26.11. 2020 – 23.1. 2021
#pinturamexicana #abstractpaintingmexico #contemporaryart #contemporaryartist #danielrichterclass #carbon12 #kourosh_carbon12
A big thank you to Maximiliano who was generous enough to share with us and with you his wonderful art world.
All images courtesy of Maximiliano Leon