Stay Home: The Artwork of Max Kuhn

Mother O Mother, detail | 12” x 16” Ink on Paper | © Max Kuhn 2015

Max Kuhn was born in 1989 and raised in Richmond, Virginia. He began traveling after leaving high school at age 15, eventually discovering and developing skill as a tattooer to support his lifestyle of near-constant movement. He has traveled and tattooed extensively throughout North America and Europe for 10 years. Although a third-generation artist- his late grandfather a reclusive sculptor, his own father an itinerant mural painter- he is largely self-taught in a tradition and aesthetic common to southern folk artists. In 2018, he had his first solo show at Webb Gallery, Waxahachie Texas. He is currently residing in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Check out more of Max’s work at his website.

Stay Home is an exploration of life on the road, what it means to travel, what it means to have a family, what it means to find home. The work also explores the damage caused when the mutually exclusive desires for travel, home and family collide.

Stay Home Installation | 6’ x 6’ x 8’ | © Max Kuhn 2016

Part-confessional, part-family history, Stay Home interrogates Max’s desire to travel- where desire is perhaps the wrong word and compulsion is more accurate. A compulsion not for sights and sounds and adventure, but simply to keep moving. Through this Max explores his father’s desire to travel – at one point travelling for 11 years, never staying in one place longer than 7 days. These adventures were told to Max as fairytales and bedtime stories, of danger, of falling asleep cold and hungry – and even as he saw the impact that it had upon his mother and his family, that same drive was imprinted on Max. An almost reluctant desire to travel. 

Railroad Boy | 12” x 16” Ink on Paper | © Max Kuhn 2015

The centerpiece of Stay Home is a 90-minute audio collage filled with intimate explorations of family, recorded through tape hiss and acoustic and distorted throbs of guitar. The exhibition is brought to life through genuine mixed media; home-video, projection, mechanical pieces that creating scrolling backdrops for illustrated trains, shuffled postcards that transport a hobo through picture-perfect versions of 50s Americana… 

Projection | 4” x 14” cutout, Acrylic on cardboard, ViewMaster projector | © Max Kuhn 2016

The use of these mechanical techniques, that would be part of traditional fairs and arcades from the first half of the 20th century, makes this a timeless story. That desire to travel, to keep moving, is one that drove the first settlers across America, that created the drifters that came back after various wars. And for such a unique and personal story, this becomes a universal one, told through the use of illustrated hobo clowns, tramps, railway drifters – and the women that they leave behind.

Mother, O Mother | 12” x 16” Ink on Paper | © Max Kuhn 2015

An illustration style familiar to people who know Max as a traditional tattooer, who used ‘illegal tattooing’ to keep himself on the road for months, years at a time, illustrating these mythic figures on skin in endless, indistinguishable hotel rooms. This is the story that Stay Home tells, simultaneously personal, intimate and universal, told through collage, VHS and cassettes, through found text, handwritten notes, dioramas of diners and hopped trains, discarded, worn-out shoes and stacks of hotel cards.

Most Were Men | 8” x 10” India ink, collaged text on board | © Max Kuhn 2016

Lighthouse | 10” x 12” x 24” Wood box, acrylic, acetate projection, recycled clock motor | © Max Kuhn 2015

Diner | 10” x 10” x 20” Plywood, acrylic | © Max Kuhn 2015

Call Me Rambler | 18” x 20” Gouache on cardboard | © Max Kuhn 2016

Above text courtesy of Colin Mitchell