Interviews with Artists

Max Petts + Robert Orr


Published in May 2022




Max Petts and Robert Orr are sat, somewhat uncomfortably, on the floor of Xxijra Hii in the week running up to the final weekend of their show.


MP: I’m so happy with the show and love the text that Ema put together but do feel like we’re lacking some hard facts.

RO: Are there such things? (laughing)

MP: Well no, I suppose, but obviously I’ve watched you make all this stuff and I’m very familiar with it, but for someone coming to see the work they don’t know that, A, that’s your brain, and, B, there’s a tumour in your brain.

RO: Or that a tumour can grow on your pituitary gland? Or that all your hormones affect your body.

MP: Exactly, there's tons of stuff there. And how those things tie in with the Japonica piece also. Obviously I think the work is strong because it doesn’t scream those things at you. But at the same time there’s some mysterious way that that information needs to make it to people. When is the first MRI from?

RO: June 2020. And the second is from February 2022.

Robert Orr - Localizers I & II, 2022, HD video (TRT/ 2/30), HD monitor, Unicol trolley, 160 x 90 x 70cm

MP: This year?

RO: Yep.

MP: Do you know when the next one is?

RO: I have the next Endocrine appointment, at the end of this month.

MP: And was the first MRI what gave you the diagnosis?

RO: Yeah. The first appointment was during the first lockdown. When Homerton Hospital was deserted. I went into the clinic next to a baby that was just out of an incubator straight into an MRI scanner. There were no parents with it, which was really scary. It was just this tiny baby being pushed around in a little baby’s bed. There were two rooms, one had this amazing light box in the ceiling and the other was the room with the baby. Then the diagnosis came after that. I got a call from my GP who had referred me for the MRI, to say there’s a tumour but I can’t tell you anymore, I’m referring you to an Endocrinologist at St Barts. I then had that appointment two weeks later where I was told I had a Macroprolactinoma on my pituitary gland, at which point I cried for 45 minutes. The doctor was freaking out! The second MRI wasn’t in Homerton but was actually at an MRI centre in Stratford, which was weird and really beautiful.

MP: I think I’ve been to one of those before, it was like a converted domestic house in an obscure part of North London.

RO: Was it private or NHS?

MP: I think it may have been a private clinic but I was getting it on the NHS. Not that that made it remotely luxurious.

RO: Yeah so the quality of the second scans are a lot higher.

MP: My unqualified eyes mean they’re all the same to me. When did you first see the MRI? Did the doctor show you at the first appointment?

RO: No, after the first appointment I thought it was too much of an opportunity. So immediately after the scan I asked at reception where the medical records department was to make a formal application to see them. I then got the files but wasn’t able to open them until I realised you had to use a particular software, which features in the film, because actually they’re JPEGs but they read as a video, essentially they’re GIFs.

Robert Orr - Localizers I & II, 2022, HD video (TRT/ 2/30), HD monitor, Unicol trolley, 160 x 90 x 70cm (1)

MP: It’s funny because I suppose most people have never seen these. But because I’ve worked in hospitals I’ve spent a lot of time with them.

RO: So you’re quite used to seeing them?

MP: Yeah, at one time I would spend my whole day looking at different CAT scans or MRIs which, as you say, operate exactly like GIF files.

RO: They’re so anonymous but also have an individual quality to them. Even like the positioning of the head.

MP: It almost gives it character. A few people said to me, “I can tell that’s Rob’s head.” (laughs)

RO: Really? I mean I think you can from the profile view.

MP: But you’re right, in many ways they're very impersonal, but also extremely intimate.

RO: All the work in the show is a big overshare.

MP: Well it is and it isn’t. Which again I suppose is why it’s good to talk about it, there’s no vulnerability without doing this.

RO: I remember being in the studio with you and you saying that this work is the least, out of everything you’ve ever made, the least personal. Whereas actually it’s still really personal.

MP: Of course. I always say this, even when what I’m doing has no direct links to my life, the nature of making art is just super personal, you’re putting so much on the line. But in terms of subject matter there’s nothing specifically autobiographical which is often how I work, albeit not always obviously.

RO: Nothing, would you say?

MP: No, not really. That’s kind of what excites me about flowers; just how general they are.

Max Petts - Flowers I-IV (Blue + Red), 2022 Plywood, plastic, newsprint, duct tape, sellotape, masking tape, craft paint, crayon, pen, pencil, digital pigment print on 300gsm Somerset photo satin, mirror corner clips, sticker, 75.1 x 58.4 x 0.9cm each.

RO: I don’t know if I buy that, without projecting onto you. Your mum passed away last year and for me it gives the ‘mum’ motif such salience.

MP: Of course, it’s super personal, but that’s also very general - everyone has a mum, everyone has a dad, which is one of the reasons why the ‘dad’ motif is also there. It’s almost like they’re generally personal, it’s not personal just to me. Everyone has a relationship with flowers, everyone has experienced them in a celebratory way, or a commemorative way, or even just a decorative way. And then there’s this rich relationship with still lives and flowers being the most basic subject matter for artists, and that includes tattoo artists as well. Which relates back to the mum thing, almost all the scrolls and banners which I intentionally left blank originally said ‘mum’.

RO: What about the drawing exercises? The scribbles?

Max Petts - Flowers II (Blue) [detail]

MP: The scribbles are personal in that I did them and I’ve been doing them for so long, they have that same quality of being individual but also nothing. I always describe them as the lowest common denominator - completely crap and throwaway. I know they also have a certain appeal but primarily they’re a way of adding my hand.

RO: They seem to have a connection to being a child, which runs throughout your work.

MP: Sure, the scribbles I’ve been doing basically forever, very intentionally since I was a teenager but I have a very clear recollection of writing a letter before I could read or understand letter forms. I suppose they're an attempt to get back to that state, to that plasticity. It’s also such an offensive term in some ways, which I find very appealing - “oh, it’s just scribbles.”

RO: You mean in a handwriting way?

MP: Yes, but also that moment of vacant daydreaming - everyone does them.

Max Petts - Flowers IV (Red) [detail]

RO: They really tie in with the MAXWORLD logo; the stickers.

MP: Yes, the logo I made as a kid, which I originally drew on the back of a birthday card I made for my step-grandmother. I do think it’s possible that no one has seen them, which I quite like.

RO: I’d forgotten about them until I looked at the materials list.

MP: They’re on the back of the panels as well as tucked away near ground level on the MAX|LIFE box. I’m fine with no one noticing or seeing them, but it’s crucial they’re there.

RO: Are any of the happy accidents, for want of a better phrase, things you can imagine becoming permanent fixtures moving forward? Specifically, MAX|LIFE or the Greek meander borders. 

Max Petts - MAX|LIFE, 2022, Cardboard, sellotape, phenol-formaldehyde bricks, cinder block, floral wire, looped audio, sticker, 32 x 24 x 116cm

MP: MAX|LIFE feels unique to this material but who knows. The borders weren’t really accidents but developed from the handwriting sheets I’m always playing with. They were such a joy to draw and paint, and I don’t normally find art making remotely enjoyable. I find it anxiety inducing. I want to sneeze and it be done. That being said, we’re not actually looking at the meanders I painted, or the scribbles I did, and I think the pleasure from doing those things is quite far from making the actual work.

RO: You did really make this work though - quite painstakingly. The drawing, the painting, the stencilling, the scanning, the photoshopping, assembling the …frames, if that’s the right word for them.

Max Petts - MAX|LIFE [detail]

MP: I think making is the question I have. I don’t know at what point the work is deemed to have been made. Whether it’s doing the drawing - which we can’t technically see any of - or scanning them, or assembling the scans on photoshop, or the moment of printing, or putting the physical thing together. It’s not important that any of those tasks were completed by me. Which is part of the reason why I have no interest in showing the “originals”. I’m interested in the act of doing the “originals”, and that I can take comfort from doing them and sitting and concentrating.

RO: Which is again a childish activity.

MP: Yes, you can almost compare it colouring in. It makes sense to me that adult colouring books are a thing, there’s a basic therapy to it. The scribbling is very similar and I’ve no interest in trying to elevate my scribbling above someone else’s necessarily. I also don’t think that just because you’re drawing or painting - or scribbling - that it’s art.

RO: Do you think about the collection and borrowing of images to be part of the same process?

MP: The images are maybe comparable to the tattoo flash as I had to collect images of them before drawing and tracing from them. I take great joy in collecting images, and can spend a lot of time with them.

RO: It’s funny to have seen your practice over the years. That flimsy moment where an image becomes an object, or vice versa, has always been there. How do you feel about the speed these have been made in comparison to the speed you made other work, for example the Clowns?

MP: Well, that depends on the definition of made.

RO: Shown then maybe?

MP: Yes, I kind of think that showing something is the finishing point. And you probably need to ask me again in ten years time. (Laughing) Those works follow the same process of scanning and then printing to destabilise the medium, but the difference is the therapeutic part of this. The Clowns I had no interest in the practical making and was utilising someone else’s painting, whereas this time there has been great pleasure - and I do think therapy is the right word - in doing the painting and drawing myself. However I don’t consider that to be the art making moment necessarily.

RO: It’s funny the way people have spoken about and questioned the mystery of the material. Is it a tablecloth? Is it referencing laminated restaurant menus? There’s definitely a moment where poor taste hits. I hate to always use this word, but they’re slippery - they sit between high and low.

Max Petts - Flowers I + II (Blue) and III + IV (Red) [detail]

MP: Which is exactly where I want to be. The tattoos are similar - 80% of them are Sailor Jerry flash - and I just love how bad they are, they’re fantastic. I don’t know how many people read them as flash though.

RO: If you hadn’t taken the names out it may have been more obvious.

MP: Tattoo flash was really the starting point for this work - looking at flash and thinking it was really beautifully assembled in a really bad way, these crap drawings stuck together behind a frame for people to choose to have copied onto their skin.

Can we talk about the Japonica a bit? I vaguely remember when you first sent me an image of one and were beginning to get obsessed with them. In parallel, I then started seeing this plant I’d never paid any attention to everywhere. When was the first time you encountered one?

RO: It was after my first appointment at St Barts in Farringdon when I’d been diagnosed with the prolactinoma. I would sit in Postman's Park. It was quite an emotional experience and at the time I was writing a lot to try and work through the feelings that were coming up, and there was a huge plant there I would see. And from then on I saw them everywhere, on my street, in every park. So they became a motif for this quite scary thing that was happening. I still don’t really know that much about them but they have a quite alien, almost tropical, quality.

Robert Orr - If only Occasionally two, 2022, Brass, tin 95 x 80 x 50cm

MP: It’s curious that they blend in so well. I must have seen a million of them without taking any notice until you highlighted them and all of a sudden they’re everywhere.

RO: They originate from Japan, and are a part of Japanese culture. I remember reading In Praise of Shadows by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, which is about the dark or the embrace of the darkness within Japanese architecture, about leaving rooms dark, and about Japanese gardens. And kind of using that as a metaphor to talk about trauma and depression, etc, etc, many things. So that as an idea was running against my thinking when I was considering and seeing them everywhere. When I'd been given this diagnosis I would go on these long walks as thinking time to consider what it was to have this diagnosis, and the isolating feelings that arose. From my first appointment, the doctor told me that because of the imbalance in my hormone levels, the high level of prolactin, which is a stress hormone that produces breast milk in cis-women, and my low level of testosterone, I had the potential to lactate . Which again, was really scary. I was forced to think about my gender in a way that I've never been forced to before. Without it being about my gender identity but a whole other situation; how my gender functioned from a hormonal perspective.

Robert Orr - If only Occasionally two [detail]

MP: Well, and how everyones does.

RO: Yeah, for sure, it’s a very grey area.

MP: Totally. I think it's one of those weird inverse privilege moments where something awful happened to you, but it exposed something which you wouldn't have had otherwise. It's an interesting train once you're on it, because you can’t get off. I think awareness of anything operates like that. There's no stepping back.. We've done a lot of reading together over the last year around gender, we read all of Paul Preciado’s Countersexual Manifesto to each other. (laughing)

RO: It’s strange to have to think about gender because my work has never been directly about gender and I still don't think it’s directly about it in any way. But it’s odd, as a queer person, I’ve never thought about the idea of procreating, so to have to consider it, to consider breastfeeding a child was quite a remarkable experience. At the time I was also reading The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, and there's a section about halfway through talking about breastfeeding, and the sexual feelings that can come up. They then later discovered there was this whole area of self help for women who breastfeed and have sexual feelings towards their child and then have intrusive thoughts about being a paedophile, which I was amazed by and thought was incredibly interesting. The potential for where your brain can go to.

MP: It’s also one of those powerful things that are just not spoken about. I imagine it could be quite a common experience.

RO: Yeah. The fear of other people's feelings towards you.

MP: This is quite a nice segue to the photograph in the show. That work is actually quite old in comparison to everything else?

RO: Yeah, it’s again from the first lockdown in 2020. I was working for a gallery in town and I was cycling into central London to permanently close the space as I was being made redundant. So I would be in central London alone when the city was completely deserted. For months, I was the only person there. Afterwards I'd go for these  walks and one day stumbled upon this high chair through a restaurant window and photographed it on my phone. And I don’t know if I want to say much more about it. It just happened for me.

Robert Orr - Highchair, 2020, Wetlab print 15.1 x 10.2cm

MP: I think it has a similarity to the Japonica in that it's a really common thing - it’s a child’s highchair - but there's also something about it which is incredibly alien. People’s first reaction is like ‘What is that?’

RO: Yeah, it maybe loops back to the high/low brow. I think it was an Italian restaurant just off Tottenham Court Road that had a number of these highchairs dotted around amongst cream leather seating with white, wipe dry tables. I wanted to use it as a way of flirting with something, almost like a clue.. For me it unifies the other two works in the show.

MP: If it had what it was slapped all over it it just wouldn't work. The enigmatic quality it has is really quite powerful. I also think it's important to say that on a basic level it's just a very beautiful photograph.

RO: Sure. For me it's a really perverse object, kind of like a cocoon-like thing that’s meant to hold a child while it’s fed.

MP: It's also very medical. Most people assume that it's something from a hospital, especially in the context of seeing the MRI's. People won’t have seen this but it’s quite similar to the photograph that you've worked from to make the Japonica. Opportunistic photography like this is a big part of your practice, I think.

RO: Yeah, it isn't until now that I’ve really acknowledged that. I used to work from photographs and make objects from them, which I'm still doing. But this is the first time I've used an image as an image, which felt really scary. It felt brave to use a six by four photograph, printed in Snappy Snaps, that was cropped differently to the frame and automatically had the day printed on it, it just worked.

MP: A snappy snap?

RO: It’s not fussed over. For me, it doesn't feel like photography. There's something about the quickness of it that allures me

MP: But I think all of these, quote unquote, medium words, they're just so insufficient.

RO: Yeah, I suppose I never really want to get tied down too much by anything being the making of something, not even in a direct post medium way, it’s just that things arrive. I think about works as an exhibition or a series of multiples so that they can bounce off each other. I like the idea of flirting with something. For me I've never been able to make singular works, which is why I struggle with the idea of showing one work in a group show.

MP: That notion of category speaks very much to my interest in the red and blue in the flowers work. Red and blue are these arbitrary opposites which you find quite often. I can't really justify my interest in it but I've always been drawn to these two colours. And then you start seeing them in the world; Labour/Conservative or Republican/Democrat, even hot and cold, there’s a common binary which I’m interested in exploring. There’s also something childlike about these basic primary colours which ties in with the use of very cheap craft paper and paint.

RO: And biro.

MP: And crayon also.

RO: I think it runs throughout your work that the framing of things is done in a way that is not particularly like art framing.  

MP: Well, I consider the frame to be everything. Imagine I was showing the ‘original drawings' of one of the flowers, pencil on newsprint, and then put it in a beautiful museum standard frame with non reflective glass - it allows so much to be taken for granted. It shuts down everything; kills the awareness of what’s going on. But resisting that does make things harder, which is one of the reasons why the making is not pleasant for me in some ways. The pleasant bit is the drawing, but that's not the work.

RO: And what is it about working in a grid?

MP: This is the third time I've done something as a four, as a kind of window. I can't really give a reason for it, I just think it works. But it’s important to say I consider it as four separate pieces and I would happily show them separately. I also think it would be interesting to show them in a different order. Historically, I was obsessed with graph paper, obsessed with the perfection of it. Which I’m not anymore, and I think we've both been on a similar journey of wanting things to be really perfect and then finding that totally exhausting.

RO: Now I want them to be really shit!

MP: Exactly! Especially because it’s impossible, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

RO: I can find it quite nauseating now.

MP: Yeah, it can be boring.

RO: The way you’ve made the bricks is a prime example.

MP: Yes, but it’s a fine line between being stylistically crap. And just crap.

RO: You’re on the right side. (laughing)

MP: Bricks are just interesting objects in themselves full stop. There’s so much interesting history to them, they’re literally foundational for so many things. There's an image, which I don't even have a digital copy of anymore - just a photo taken on my phone of a version I printed years and years ago, of gold bullion, of gold bricks stacked. And this is where the arrangement is taken from for this work. There's something about that image that I’ve always found so moving and powerful.

The reference to gold is very relevant to the Japonica, as that touches on the history of the material as something important, as a decorative and beautiful thing, a marker of value.

RO: With the Japonica, similar to your bricks, there's a shakiness about its production. It's actually brass held together with sloppy soldering.

MP: But it's amazing how the quality of gold transgresses that.

RO: Yeah, it really does. It continues to be an alluring visual.

MP: It's total Magpie effect, it’s just exciting. The value thing is also so important. Until the 70’s gold was still the foundation of our financial system and continues to be this grotesque symbol of investment. And there’s a scary parallel with art where it's become a way to just move capital around. Luxury goods.

RO: Yes, which is so far from the world we, and most artists, occupy. There’s something there about not necessarily feeling comfortable about being in the category of ‘artist’, or at least ‘artist’ as a job.

MP: Yeah, I mean ‘artist’ is not really a noun I'm comfortable to sit beneath, but then I don’t really have any nouns I'm comfortable to sit beneath. Shall we take a break?


SNACK BREAK (a Twix Xtra and some Grace Green Plantain Chips Salted)


MP:  How important is it that you made the japonica work? Would you like to have clicked your fingers and had a team of assistants do it for you?

RO: No, when I think back to when I had the diagnosis, starting to make the work was a very therapeutic process. I started from home, without a studio and I wasn’t in a very good place with art at all as I’d been so frustrated with what I’d been making. I began with the seed pods, soldering them in my kitchen. It drove me mad as they’re infuriatingly difficult to make. Solder is a fragile and tedious material to work with which I kind of love, the messiness I love. It feels like the material of a hobbyist.

MP: I don’t think you were aware when you started but there is quite a rich history of filigree?

RO: Yes, I think it’s a 17th century decorative art, primarily jewellery making these days. But I can’t really go down that route as I was just replicating an image of a plant that I happened to make in brass, and happens to be a bit baroque.

MP: What was your attraction to brass?

RO: The price. And there was continuity from a previous work, that in my eyes failed.

MP: If only, Occasionally version one?

RO: Yes, in many ways it was a remake.

MP: We should probably talk about your titles a bit more. If only, Occasionally in itself is very beautiful language but I know it’s also stolen?

RO: Yes, it’s taken from an NHS questionnaire that you’re asked to fill out when you’re having cognitive behavioural therapy. It’s a sliding scale of how you feel so you have questions like ‘Have you thought about killing yourself this week?’ On a scale of 1-10, how often do you have those thoughts, daily, weekly, and so on. I forget the specifics, but the final questions had 'If only, occasionally’ as a tick box which I found really interesting. The first iteration was a kind of cause and effect diagram, called an Ishikawa diagram, made from brass rod and seatbelt that collapsed into the floor. It was the beginning of my thinking around the failures of particular systems of health care.

MP: How do you feel about the first iteration now?

RO: Better - it’s taken me a long time to accept that you can make things and they may fail. Or maybe that not everything can succeed.

MP: I don’t necessarily think that failure or success are fixed points, those feelings are waves that we all have to surf. Can you envisage an If only, Occasionally three?

RO: Potentially. I’m thinking about doing a really big bush.

MP: (laughing) A big 70’s bush?

RO: Yeah.

MP: What about the title of the photograph?

RO: Highchair.

MP: Does what it says on the tin, which is an important indication to what the object is.

RO: And then the video is called Localizers 1 and 2, which is again very functional.

MP: Does it say that within the screen?

RO: No, it’s what they are. They’re localised scans rather than full body. I swayed between using the British or American spelling.

MP: They have such a panoptic quality.

RO: I haven’t done anything to them, as works they were made for me.

MP: It would have been very easy to ruin them.

RO: They were almost like a gift.

MP: You need to take credit for receiving the gift though, for not soiling it. A lot of bad videos could have been made with this footage but it came to you complete. That being said, I know you had to work very hard to make it look like you’ve done nothing.  

RO: Yeah, it was a lot of work - they are actually screen recordings from the medical imaging software - Horos. 

MP: I think it’s also important to talk about the trolley and the screen, very specific objects.

RO: The trolley is a Unicol trolley which are often used for corporate events and to display things in hospitals. I wanted to continue that aesthetic.

MP: Yes, I think it’s very successful - I can imagine it at the foot of my bed having some sort of horrible tray dinner served on it.

RO: Yes, almost needs a remote.

MP: The screen could also be calling out names, announcing who's next to be seen.

RO: Yes, but the silence is important, and quite potent.

Can we talk about the MAX|LIFE logo a bit more? I think most people have assumed you carved it.

MP: Mmm, which I didn’t really anticipate. I’ve been obsessed with this material for as long as I’ve known about it, there’s something horrifying and alluring about it all at once, and when I started engaging with the material there was all this branding which I was initially very unhappy about and didn’t want but became a really exciting opportunity. You mentioned earlier the logo I made as a child - MAXWORLD - which features in a small way at the bottom of the plinth/box. MAXLIFE became another thing to play with; the problem became an opportunity.

RO: There are many opportunities in them though?

MP: Yes, totally. I always think art making is about recognising when, not if, you’ve been lucky. Your MRI’s are a prime example of this, it’s material, and likewise for me the audio. When I discovered there was this fascination with the foam from the ASMR community, this weird stimulation - it made me think of when you first start getting excited about art and it’s such a fucking buzz. I can remember going to the Tate and buzzing my tits off, being so excited, in a physical spine tingling ASMR way. I also wanted to disrupt how conventionally sculptural they are and have an element that can’t be captured in an image.

RO: Do you feel that art still does that for you?

MP: So, so rarely. You can almost speak about it in terms of addiction. The hit has to keep getting bigger.

RO: Do you think that’s because of how long you’ve been in London or because of how you’ve changed or something else?

MP: I suppose the special stuff gets rarer - you can only encounter it once too. When I think of when I started to get in to art, going to certain shows and being totally blown away, physically excited in a non sexual way.

RO: Really? Its definitely been sexual for me.

MP: (Laughing) Sure. But, it does still happen now, just rarely, and in some ways that makes it more special. What art making is good for is finding those complex areas of contradiction and making them palpable. Which you can’t do with language in the same way because it’s so definite, it immediately generalises everything. Words are insufficient really, but they present as perfect and complete.

RO: I relate to that idea in the sense of an exhibition as a diagram, how objects and images can piggy back off one another to either form or disrupt a narrative.

MP: Yes, it’s how meaning develops. It’s nice to talk about art in regards to the order of encountering - whether you've looked at the website or you're familiar with the work or follow the artist on social media, you then arrive with this expectation of the object. Likewise, once you’ve encountered the object perhaps you take a picture. There’s either the repetition through images or a recollection of what you’ve seen - whether that’s the “real” thing or the image of it, or both. It’s almost like movements in different directions.

Flowers, Max Petts + Robert Orr, Xxijra Hii, 2022 [installation image]

RO: There’s a lot of mileage within both MAX|LIFE and MAXWORLD.

MP: Its unavoidable that works are branded with and by your name - i.e. that’s a Robert Orr work - your name is always going to be in proximity to the work, so when I found the logo I’d designed as a child it was an amazing opportunity to play with this notion. Especially considering I have a complicated situation with my name anyway. So often the name is more important than the work, pretty much all of the time if you’re talking about selling, so to bring awareness to this is very exciting to me, even though the name thing has also been immensely problematic at times. It was funny doing this show, as I really had a moment of questioning whether I should be going by Max Petts.

RO: Jamie?

MP: Well, no. I don’t have a suggestion for an alternative, but I’ve been left in a position where I have to make a choice, Jamie Williams or Max Petts, or something in between. And I don’t know what the right choice is. At one point I was all in as Max Petts, but since then I’ve had to work and travel under parts, sometimes all, of my legal name. So Jamie Williams has taken precedence. But here I find myself back as Max Petts. It goes back to that idea of language, neither of them are necessarily sufficient. I don’t have to identify with any of them, the issue is that people will want me to, or will identify me with them.

RO: I suppose it’s the same trajectory as understanding your practice as just painting.

MP: Yes, totally. Or that maybe you’re not just a man, or just a woman.

RO: Or just gay, or just straight.

MP: Yes, it’s almost like language builds up these generalisations and you then have to knock them down. And then repeat. How did you feel getting the images back for the show?

RO: It felt like the show was complete.

MP: Yes, the work is real. It’s almost like a validation - seeing the show in images. It’s been exciting for me to get the pictures back of the wall works - the power of them is apparent in their image - they kind of return back to being drawings and paintings.

RO: Is there reflection of the camera in the images?

MP: No, the photographer did a great job of navigating that, but it’s almost impossible to avoid if you’re not using a very professional set up. I intentionally used cheap plastic to make them as reflective as possible.

Flowers, Max Petts + Robert Orr, Xxijra Hii, 2022 [installation image]

RO: It’s funny, I was showing a couple of people around the show who presumed the wall work was mine and were asking me about butt plugs.

MP: The wine stopper? (laughing) There’s a conversation we’ve had many times about opportunities for art that are quite general - dollhouses, laughing gas canisters, and so on - and I think butt plugs fit into that list. It’s like they’re open-source. 

RO: Flowers too, no? And similar in their sexiness.

MP: Absolutely, and yes it’s all sex. When I was assembling it I had a friend describe the image on the bottom right hand corner, the one of a burgeoning Icelandic poppy, as ‘ready for cunnilingus’. It’s all pornography. There are a few other images that aren’t flowers; the Labour logo which is meant as a nod to the political binary that we’ve already talked about. And there’s a few references to an earlier work, a collection of images based on colour categories. The starting point for which was the wikipedia page for each colour which led with a square image of nine different shades of the colour. The picture of the blue eye also comes from that collection. A few people have said that it’s there because it’s an iris, which is also a kind of flower and a perfectly logical assumption.

RO: There’s the two Andy Warhols.

MP: Yep, although maybe Sturtevant’s? (laughing) There’s two other art references as well, a Georgia O’Keeffe and a Manet or Monet - I forget who is who which is really bad. Water lilies! In all honesty I still feel too close to the work to talk about it properly.

RO: I’ve got to the point where I’ve accepted I can only talk about how I got there. You have no control about how it operates once it’s made.

MP: Absolutely. Plus, I don’t make the work to talk about it. And have little faith in my ability to explain it. Maybe that’s a good place to end?






If you like this why not read our interview with Daria Gitmanovich.


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