This latest body of work utilizes Maxwell’s vast collection of torn-down expired billboard advertisements from Europe. Incorporating multiple layers of the billboard paper with beeswax and other found materials, Maxwell’s signature silhouettes pay homage to the fashion designers who helped revolutionize the look of modern women, from Coco Chanel, Halston and Diane von Furstenberg to Christian Siriano and Zac Posen.
Adding to the fun of visiting the factory, Maxwell recalls that “My grandfather would have his team create miniature versions of their designs for my sister and me, until we were old enough to go ‘shopping’ right off the endless racks in his facility.”
But with adolescence came a struggle with body image and the frustration of trying to create a figure considered worthy of high fashion. By age 30, aware that she was hardly alone in her feelings, Maxwell was driven to make art that expressed those anxieties felt by her and other women. With her longtime love of paper and collage, she began by ruminating on the paper dolls she enjoyed dressing as a child.
“Paper doll cut-outs, with their perfect, thin bodies and boxes of form-fitting clothes, have been used as a central icon in my work as part of the examination of women and our negative body images. I would find vintage food labels at antique stores and flea markets and build up multiple layers of the papers on wood panel. Using vintage paper dolls as the template, I would carve into the layers revealing the silhouette. Thus, the food imagery both surrounded and became the figures.”
From this work, Maxwell found a legion of fans and collectors who both appreciated the struggle conveyed through her art while also reveling in the beauty and craftsmanship of the work itself.
Today, however, Maxwell feels the confidence that comes with maturity. She is far more hopeful for the portrayal of women who love fashion, inspired in part by young designers like Posen and Siriano, who are breaking ground by confidently designing for clients of different sizes, as well ethnicities and gender identity, and prominently featuring them on runways and in advertisements.
“The women in my new works are animated; they are striding with confidence, style and strength. They are influenced by the fashions seen on the pages of magazines, on the red carpet and in fashion shows, but they have made it uniquely their own,” she says. “I am now asserting authority, individuality and fearlessness. I am putting into play my own fantasy of being a fashion designer by dressing these women in found papers that I have ripped down from expired billboard ads to take advantage of their distinct patterns, textures and fonts. Rather than using my work to process through negative emotions, the work comes from a place of confidence, exhilaration, and pure joy for the art of fashion.”