Maxwell Coppola Intertwines Innocence and the Digital Age
by Paul Weiner
Maxwell Coppola is an artist who explores the duality between childhood innocence and disturbing images. He recently stumbled into the world of internet-based art with a series of work reliant upon Google image searches. Check out Maxwell’s work online at http://www.maxwellcoppola.com.
Could you describe the process you went through in order to capture the images in your word searches series?
I developed the concept for my word search pieces while looking up references for my paintings. I’m always searching the Internet for images to help formulate my paintings, and I do so much of this through Google’s image search. After doing some more experimental projects, I decided to give the word search series a shot.
To create the pieces, I search for a word or phrase, write down the time and day of the search, and take screenshots of the output. The screenshots are then pieced together to form the piece.
I like how many different concepts these pieces touch upon: pop culture, mass media, the internet, search engines, fair use, copyright, abstract vs. figurative, aesthetics, perception. I think these pieces have a lot of potential talking points.
This process is intriguing because it points out the extent to which Google informs our perceptions and opinions on ideas, objects, and people. How is it that you determine the compositions for these works? Do you create the compositions intuitively and aesthetically or with rigid conceptual requirements like an algorithm?
An image search engine follows an algorithm to determine which images it will display. Google creates the algorithm, but the images themselves are out across the Internet. I think the search offers a sort of current aggregate perception of a word or phrase.
I’m still exploring how I want to continue this process, actually. Searching for a celebrity like Oprah Winfrey is much different than searching for, let’s say, the color blue. The one thing I will always do is write down the search time and date. How different might a search for “World Trade Center” be in 2000 versus 2002?
I try to be conceptual initially, but I certainly think about aesthetics and whether my initial concept will ultimately work as a visual piece. I like your idea of incorporating an algorithm to create the pieces. I could definitely explore that.
Why have you chosen to create artwork which questions your own identity in reference to child-like and disturbing imagery?
I’m not sure I’m really trying to question my identity with these. There are some images within these paintings that relate to my childhood directly, but those are usually thrown in as little Easter eggs to myself.
I’m really influenced by members of my own family and my own experience working with children. My mother works with children aged 2-5; my aunt is a principal at a grade school; I have a lot of young cousins; I have my own history of working as a camp counselor for 5 years. I’m also influenced by pop surrealist artists, who seem to use a lot of children in their artwork. I think the disturbing and twisted imagery makes for good contrast against the innocence of childhood, but that could just be in my own head.
I’ve noticed that many of your works use stuffed animals as a symbol for childhood. Are the stuffed animals in your images directly related to you or simply made up for the paintings?
I remember the characters, and they were a part of my life in some capacity, but the images used as references were taken from the Internet.
Do you view aestheticism as a chief concern in the creation of your images or is it secondary to the concept?
The aesthetics are always a concern for me; however, they are not the first on the list. The concept is always first, but I do my best to make a professional looking piece. I’ve always had the mindset that my paintings should be beautiful from afar, but twisted when you get closer and actually see what’s going on.
Describe the process you use in beginning a work of art. How does this change when creating photography, conceptual art, and painting?
Whether creating photography, conceptual art, or paintings, I start the same way. I’m always trying to generate ideas that are weird, ironic, controversial, funny, unexpected, gross, beautiful, and some mix of all of that. The main test an idea has to pass in my own mind is:
1. Is it interesting?
2. Is this me?
One interesting part about number 2 is that I probably would not have started my word search series if I hadn’t let myself experiment with my mixed media pieces. I started as a painter, and I was planning on working strictly within that medium. I think by allowing myself to explore different media and ideas, it helped me become more open minded about my artwork and who I wanted to be as an artist.
Your Word Search series seems to move away from the theme of childhood. Is that a direction you’re planning on heading in for future work?
That’s a good question. I think that I will continue to paint as I am. However, I love exploring new concepts and ideas and working with different materials. Also, you never know what might catch on in the art world.
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