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Artist Profile: The Many Faces of Zoe Maxwell
December 9, 2020
Note: Since Maxwell’s initial interview with the Register, she has joined the Register staff as a contributing artist, and her artwork has been featured in several stories.
Zoe Maxwell’s bedroom wall is plastered with dozens of faces: the solemn black-and-white image of a girl clutching her cheek as blood drips from her eyes, nose, and mouth; Tyler the Creator playfully eating a banana; and a cold metallic Willow Smith staring blankly with white pupils and dark eyes
Maxwell, a BHS junior, is an artist who specializes in portraiture. Her artwork hangs on her bedroom wall, and thanks to a growing fan base, can also be found on the walls of more than 30 others who have purchased her prints. Her portraits exude energy, emotion, and individuality.
“There’s a lot of emotion and detail that goes into [portraiture] and it takes so much effort to make it look realistic,” Maxwell said.”…I like the skin tones and the undertones and there’s so many different people in the world.”
Maxwell primarily uses acrylic paints, but also works with oil, watercolor, and gouache. Typically, she draws her inspiration from a single photograph.
“Usually [inspiration] comes from an image that I find that I’m really drawn to, or that I enjoyed a lot,” she said. “When I see a lot of contrast, or something difficult, that I could challenge myself with, which I like, an image kind of inspires a whole piece.”
Once inspired, Maxwell sketches the image, giving her the outline to add her own artistic flair. She adds bold pops of color, and stark light-to-dark contrast, intensifying the highlights and shadows.
“If I do a black and white piece I usually add, if there’s a hat or something, I make it a color so there’s contrast,” she said. “…If I’m doing color, I like to use bright colors and I’ve done some pieces that are like shapes almost on the faces, which is something I really enjoy.”
Beyond an emphasis on contrast, Maxwell does not label herself as having a “strict style” or sticking to “specific techniques.” Instead, she sees her work as continuously evolving and she is constantly exploring new methods of visual expression. Currently, she is distancing herself from realistic portraiture and experimenting with more abstract uses of shape, color, and form.
“I’ve been trying to do a lot more not-realistic, like brush strokes and stuff like that, which has more emotion, or it’s just different from other art,” she said.
Maxwell’s work reflects strong musical influences as the majority of her portraits feature rappers and musical artists. She is also moved by social justice issues, notably the Black Lives Matter movement. Her portraits of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are particularly compelling.
“I painted the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor pieces after each of their deaths because I thought it was a powerful way of appreciating their lives that were sadly taken by police brutality,” she said. “I think creating these pieces was my way of getting involved in the movement and I think art is an amazing way to shed light on extremely important issues in our world.”
Each piece takes Maxwell an average of six to eight hours to complete and she finds the process meditative.
“If I’m feeling anxious or sad, art is definitely a way that I cope with that,” she said. “…I like the process and how it’s unique to you and it can be different from anything else. It’s kind of your ideas going down on a piece of paper so you can express yourself through it too.”