We had coffee with sculptor and photographer Maxwell Runko, a student at VCU, as he reflected on black holes, the beauty of dryer lint, and the evolution of relationships.
What medium did you get into first?
I started in 10th grade with photography and that was my jumping off point. I got into Flickr super hard. I was into photography and that segued into being interested in art in general and that was when I took my first art class. It was a basic art class where you draw a self portrait and all that. Then I went to the pre-college program at VCU and it solidified what I was interested in – art. But it really started in 10th grade with photography.
Would you say your work is nostalgic or informed by new experiences?
I wouldn’t say my work is nostalgic. I’m not talking about my childhood, I’m talking about my present-day relationship with my parents and the dynamics of it, coming out to them over the summer and that experience. That whole dynamic of the relationship is what I’m really interested in. So I would say it’s based on new experiences. For example, I used to paint my nails a lot as a child. So with my mom, we did this video performance where we put on nail polish and mascara, and I overlaid them to indicate that relationship. So that was based on nostalgic events but I don’t think it was readily apparent. Family is such an interesting idea for me because everyone has a family, whether blood related or not. If you use certain things like a mother and a father, those ideas are something that people can see themselves through.
Family is such an interesting idea for me because everyone has a family, whether blood related or not.
My family is what I'm really into right now, just the dynamics and the relationship I have with them.
Does your photography inform your sculpture work?
It’s all related for me. Even though it’s a different medium it still translates my ideas. I’m more interested in bringing my photography into my sculpture work than bringing sculpture into my photography, though. But I don’t think they’re two separate worlds that can’t meet in the middle. I’ve been doing a lot of picture stuff, like those woven portraits, which I feel are more of a sculpture than just a photo since they have an evident trace of my hand.
Out of all the projects you’ve worked on, do you have one that speaks the most to you?
My teacher assigned a ‘collection’ project last semester. She said, ‘collection. That’s all I’m going to say.’ I started thinking of this idea of collecting objects and that relationship people have with collections of objects, which lead into me making objects with my identical twin brother. I made five objects and had him make them ‘identically’ (shown below). That’s where the whole family idea comes from. It was a game changer for me because I could talk about my family, this super personal relationship, but it could be dislocated and able to reach a viewer and allow them to have their own understanding and perception of it. That was a really pivotal moment in my career as an artist. If I am an artist.
So having opinions from people outside and inside my class is super pivotal for any young artist.
Do you think Richmond is a developing center of counter-culture?
Richmond is a ground for cultivating young artists and they have a lot of good things to say and a lot of good work to make. But I don’t think it will ever be like New York, LA., or Europe it’s just too intimate and there’s not enough revenue to make these impactful spaces. However, my friend Evana Roman just opened this space on Grace Street called Atlantis Gallery. It’s people like her that are really getting the ball rolling by trying to help out the undergrads and show that we actually have things to say. Through the art school and VMFA there’s a lot of great artists and art here, and there’s a lot of artists coming in from outside of Virginia which I love because it’s a whole new walk of life. In a couple years Richmond could be something, but I know for me at least when I graduate I’m not going to stay.
How do your surroundings inspire you?
For me Richmond really began the conversation of materiality because wherever you look there’s so much material. Even right here there’s a bench and concrete with cigarette butts on them with ashes and huge windows. All that stuff is so inspiring to me. When I walk around by myself I’m observing everything. I just take everything in. I remember one time last year I passed this beer bottle that was tied in a plastic bag, and I thought, ‘that’s really beautiful.’ I try to notice these minute details, which really translated into my work. Richmond makes me realize small moments and how large they actually are.
Interview by Austin Ledzian and Luisa Lacsamana
Photographs by Maxwell Runko