Max Lehman (MaxL)
Max Lehman was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky, in 1961, the third of four brothers. At the time of his birth, his father was a colonel in the army working on a medical degree, and his mother was studying for her first degree in nursing. When Max was still a toddler, the family moved across the river into Indiana, shifting back and forth between Indianapolis and Kokomo, the setting for a typical Midwestern childhood of cornfields, building forts in the woods and dressing up for Halloween. In the early 1970s, the Lehman family moved out west to Phoenix, Arizona.
Max’s family is a bit eccentric, not unlike a James Thurber novel—his father although an anesthesiologist for over 35 years began his career in college playing trombone for Tommy Dorsey his mother gave up nursing to raise the family and is a photographer, his oldest brother an engineer at Honeywell, flew model rockets as a kid and was a potter in college, the next is a computer chip designer but also plays bass in rock bands and has been a studio musician for groups including Judas Priest and Alice Cooper; and his younger brother is a kilt-wearing, bag pipe playing nurse who likes to attend civil war re-enactments. Max doesn’t remember being a particularly good student when it came to math or science, but he always took the awards for art projects in elementary and high school.
Max attended college at Arizona State University, studying for a degree in intermedia (now known as media arts), with a minor in Pre-Columbian art history. He apprenticed at the F&R Pottery Studio in Cave Creek, north of Phoenix, during his college years. He later went on to work for the Red Horse Clay Company, managing the production studio and designing images for their line of southwestern interior accessories.
Some of Max’s earliest experiences as a professional fine artist took place in the “bad” neighborhoods or barrios of Phoenix; those experiences continue to influence his artistic vision to this day.
Downtown Phoenix in the 1970s was a pretty dicey place, and it certainly wasn’t a place one wanted to be at night. Max remembers a family trip once returning from Los Angeles when his parents had to drive through downtown Phoenix, late at night and long before its redevelopment. Driving north on Seventh Street through the warehouse and industrial districts, Max remembers his father telling the family to lock the car doors. As the family drove on the dark, deserted streets, Max wondered at the mystery of downtown—what was it that frightened his parents?
In the early ‘80s, downtown Phoenix began a cultural shift from dark and scary to an artist mecca. Max applied for and was voted into the membership at the Movimiento Artistico del Rio Salado (MARS) Gallery, an NEA-funded artist run co-op gallery located right in the middle of a south Phoenix barrio. His time at MARS was one of the most formative periods of his early art career. At MARS, everybody supported each other in their mission to bring fine art to the local downtown community. There was a real sense of possibility and positive energy. During his time with MARS, he came to realize the importance of diversity and inclusiveness and started to formulate his earliest ideas of cultural plurality. What began at MARS has kept a hold on him—Max found his artistic voice there and began to incorporate multi-cultural images and themes into his work.
Max vividly remembers how Ralph Cordova, the MARS gallery director, would tease him, accusing Max of being a “reverse crossover Chicano.” At the time, Max was also showing at the Elaine Horwitch Gallery in Scottsdale. Ralph said to Max, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Here you are showing at the best gallery in Scottsdale and you want to come downtown. We are all downtown and wish we were showing in Scottsdale.” Max celebrates with pride his status as an honorary reverse crossover Chicano to this day.
Many of the artists that showed at MARS have gone on to be recognized nationally and internationally in the Hispanic, Native American and contemporary art communities–attesting to the fact that Phoenix, and MARS in particular, was a fertile ground for the creative mind.
To escape the Arizona heat, Max moved to Santa Fe in 1991, and joined the Canyon Road crowd. He started showing his work in a little gallery on Gypsy Alley named the Leaping Lizard. At that time, his work was focused on painted ceramics that sometimes incorporated neon tube lighting and drew upon iconography from the Maya, Aztec, Teotihuacán and South American pre-Columbian cultures. Staying true to his urban roots, Max would also throw some graffiti or punk rock ideas into the mix.
After moving around the Santa Fe area for several years, he finally settled in Nambe a “traditional Hispanic” village approximately 25 miles north of Santa Fe that was at one time part of the Nambe Pueblo. When he is not working on his art, he and his partner Mark Burton are relaxing, farming and spending time with their four rescue dogs and an eclectic collection of friends.
In his parallel existence, Max is the Webmaster for the New Mexico Tourism Department. Before working at the Tourism Department, he was a web designer at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Occasionally Max teaches as a member of the adjunct faculty at Santa Fe Community College, offering instruction in animation, web development, digital media and sculptural ceramics.