Maxwell Alexandre’s large-scale paintings are infused with Brazilian pop culture and hip-hop
The Brazilian artist has long been inspired by the music industry, which imbues a sense of lyricism and pace in his detailed works.
- Ayla Angelos
- 17 February 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Maxwell Alexandre is a Brazilian artist whose works defy all aspects of the traditional painting medium. In his large-scale pieces, plastered on iron doors or window frames, you’ll find detailed scenes of figures smoking, people taking selfies or sitting and getting their hair done. At times, he incorporates plastic tarpaulins to make his patterns. In others, he infuses materials found from his environment. There are so many details in his work, that the viewer may need to zoom in a little to fully make sense of the canvas.
Having just closed his first solo UK show at David Zwirner titled Pardo é Papel: Close a door to open a window, Maxwell’s work is an intricate display of his roots, having grown up in Rio de Janeiro’s Rocinha – the largest favela in Brazil. He pulls references from Brazilian popular culture and hip-hop music, utilised in a way that builds a narrative around the Black experience. What’s more, much of his work can be linked to music, exemplified through his previous pieces that are inspired by three rappers from Brazil: Baco Exu do Blues from Bahia, Djonga form Minas Gerais and BK’ from Rio de Janeiro. Even the exhibition name Pardo é Papel takes its name from one of Tyler, the Creator’s verses, while additional paintings take extracts from Solange and Frank Ocean lyrics.
Maxwell was born in Rio de Janeiro and was previously a professional roller-skater – he spent a decade in this field before completing a mandatory military service, then pursuing a degree in graphic design from Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-RJ). Dabbling in figurative drawing, the history and sociology of art, philosophy of art and aesthetics, this is the moment that Maxwell began to understand the limits of his practice, that which grapples with both multi-disciplinary techniques and the functionality of design.
When asking Maxwell Alexandre to describe his most recent work, he responds with a specific story. It was 1 April 2019, the day on which he got married in the Church of the Kingdom of Art – he’d never had a girlfriend before. “I didn’t make our relationship status official but we still decided to have a marriage, exactly on April Fools’ day,” he tells It’s Nice That. “From this act, the date was then defined to me as a day when I put myself in a whole new place.” Then, one year later exactly, he decided to throw himself into unknown territory again. That was, specifically, music, which later informed his Pardo é Papel series in 2017, “when I started separating rap verses from artists Baco Exu do Blues, BK’ and Djonga from their albums, which inspired me a lot to create the works,” he says. “These poets were talking about the same things I was representing through my paintings.”
As such, rap music and the lyricism of the artists would inherently drive his work. Some of his first experiences in the music industry include going backstage at the rappers’ concerts, or heading to the studio to work on music development: “the writings, beat selections and even recordings woke up something in me,” he says. He’d also previously created an album with the Church of the Kingdom of Art, titled Coral (“Choir”). This was the first art studio’s album, and was recorded in Maxwell’s studio in Rocinha and created in one day. “That was the premise: to create everything in this short period of time, improvising.”
This album is available on the Church’s YouTube and Spotify channels, and was Maxwell’s most direct experience of working in the music industry. “It’s really hard to think of a church without music, without a choir,” he adds, stating how his taste and love of music has been “polished” with cosme sao Lucas, a member of the Church and friend. “He has a very strong relationship with sound; it was with him that I realised how my relationship with this type of art is very superficial because music for me is more like the ‘background’ of the situation and not a thing itself. There are many subtleties of sound that I can’t hear yet, not to mention my difficulty keeping up with the rhythm, I’m learning more about this in my relationship with cosme.”
It’s important to hear of this backstory of Maxwell’s, as music is a key driver to the work that he creates. He’s continued to produce albums for the Church of the Kingdom of Art, and built anjo Maxwell off the back of it – his fourth album created “to build the artist’s faith”, featuring ten tracks. It was devised at the beginning of quarantine when social isolation was paramount, bringing with it anxieties and uncertainties about the future. This proves that, although a rocky few months lay ahead, Maxwell will continue to work in this realm of musical artistry, and has plans to construct a new temple; “a new alter”. He concludes: “That is, to set up a mega studio to create mega creative opportunities.”
Maxwell Alexandre: Close a door to open a window, 2020. Images courtesy of David Zwirner (Copyright © Maxwell Alexandre, 2020)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.