in partnership
(Image courtesy of Max Ginsburg)

Artist of the Week: Max Ginsburg

Seattle might be notorious for niche coffee shops and scenic waterways, but locals know it's also home to an array of people who love to create. This city is chock-full of artists who we love to feature weekly on Seattle Refined! If you have a local artist in mind that you would like to see featured, let us know at And if you're wondering just what constitutes art, that's the beauty of it; it's up to you!

Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating? Do you work with other mediums?
Well, I am 88 years old now. So, I guess you can say 86 years. I say that because my father was a portrait painter, and when I was two years-old I walked into his studio and picked up a brush. And like he did, I started painting on a painting, but unfortunately it was one of his finished portraits. The more serious answer is I really started getting into painting when I was a teenager.

In terms of other mediums, I’ve worked with watercolor, woodcuts, and scratch board when I was a teenager and early years as an artist. But oil painting is the major medium that I worked with and have been working with my whole life.

Can you tell us about your artistic process and the different stages you work into it?
My medium is oils and my painting process is Alla Prima, which is painting directly, without a preliminary drawing, on the canvas. I develop the painting directly from life wet on wet. I first paint larger forms of shapes, darks and lights and color. Then I develop the smaller forms. I am constantly observing the proportions and relationships of one form to another. As the painting develops areas I painted earlier have to be altered because the relationships are constantly changing. A painting is like life, you have to make changes and adjust.

Tell us about where your inspiration for your art comes from?
You might say that my inspiration comes from a sense of the truth about the world and humanity. Old Masters such as Rembrandt, Repin, Millet, Kollwitz have this same feeling in their work which is that Truth is Beauty. Then there are others who see and paint classical form but avoid the reality of life. Yet I am inspired by the beauty of their form, Then there are many painters, i.e. Ash Cam School and Social Realists whose expression of ideas is inspiring, but not their form.

I like my paintings to reflect the real world. When you look at my work, you see a social orientation. My inspiration comes from the injustice that I have observed. I grew up in the depression and the second World War, so those two factors were a big influence on me.

Do you have one piece of art that means more to you, or is extremely special to you?
One of the most important pieces is when my parents posed for me when they were old. It reflected on the plight of older people, especially in New York City.

Another piece that is important to me is one called War Pieta. Similar to how the old masters dealt with tragedies in the Bible, I was trying to deal with those concepts in the real world today. War Pieta is a mother over her son who was killed in war. It is reminiscent of the pieta by Michelangelo where Mary is holding her dead son in her lap. I wanted to use this symbolism to reach as many people as possible to help them look closer at the things that are happening today.

What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
As I mentioned before, growing up in the Great Depression and WWII had a huge impact on my art. Witnessing injustices like segregation and genocide fueled my devotion to social realism in my paintings. Art needs to be more than just something nice to look at or an escape, it’s also important to represent the world we see around us, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.

If we want to see more of your work where should we go to find it?
I have two websites, and

What is next for you? Anything you’re working on that you’re really excited about?
There are certain issues that I feel very strongly about and would like to express these ideas in a painting. The racist injustice at the Mexican border dealing with immigrants who are seeking asylum is one. Gun violence is another. Global warming and our survival as a planet is another vital concern. And of course there is the greed for money that seems to never end. These are some ideas I hope to paint about soon.

I am also doing a lot of workshops lately. I’m currently looking forward to teaching a Studio Concentration: Painting from Life class at Gage Academy of Art in December. Gage means something to me because it is one of the number one fine art academies today teaching realist art. I feel that Gage is very supportive of me, and I am supportive of them. I’m honored to be teaching one of their workshops.

How do you take your coffee?
Milk, no sugar.