James Maxwell lives along the Northern Coast of California, near Mendocino, CA. His house is within sound of the cold sea, he seeks the Tropics for comfort in winter, and being an inveterate "doer," his hands have to keep busy. On one trip into the South Pacific he brought his studio, and left the "foggy dark" behind.
Contained in a briefcase, Max had packed enough paper for two months moving from American Samoa to Western Samoa and the three island groupings of the Kingdom of Tonga. Using Japanese sumi brushes and English watercolors, Max produced over thirty painting and text for his Winter's Diary. This work found its way into the hands of Air New Zealands in flight magazine's editor, Jill Malcolm, and his work was published there.
That article resulted in sales and commissions for work now found in collections around the world. The sunlight saturated paintings are the size of Max's briefcase 12"X 16", they are of an immediate fleeting moment. They are personal in the extreme, as they are of relationships along the way of his travels. Kindnesses, and playful tourist flirting, are mixed with a sense of finding one's place in the scheme of things.
While swimming one morning, a dugout outrigger canoe rounded the reaf and headed for him. Native boys brandishing a machete playing pirate, headed in on him in mock warfare, "I think there was a gene pool, cell memory thing going on there." Convinced early on, as to their benevolence, Max motioned the children to shore where he photographed them. Using a Polaroid as "booty", the artist realized he possessed a tool for trade in getting models. At one such exchange the kids were so impressed with their own images, they ran away in delight, forgetting their Polaroid treasure.
The climate of the islands, the moisture, the lack of foggy atmosphere, the intensity of the light are all part of the textures of these paintings. "Yes" Max's reiterates, "the sea really is a lilac color, and the sky sometimes is a yellow that is unpaintable, but what is really weird is there is no twilight, the sun goes down and its black. But then again, the southern sky has other stars."
In this painting Max explains, "Suddenly, there were all these kids around me, wanting a Polaroid for themselves. The little girl in front here traded me an exquisite shell for one, turns out it is rare enough to buy several cameras. But, what I'm really saying about this painting is the children were so fascinated by the Polaroids that when I brought out my 35mm camera they expected a picture to pop out. That was a good day, lots of sunshine and sand, nice people and lots of laughter. So simple."
Evenings were quiet, no electricity to enforce his work, so the entertainment provided by the locals became the focus. Working from sketches and memory, paintings were produced over weeks after returning to the mainland. Even now, some years later, commis- sions and sales of South Pacific subject matter is part of Max's studio work.
For a look at the complete portfolio of Maxwell's South Pacific Journal that is illustrating a Publishing House's Web Site, go to: