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This essay was published in the catalogue for Maximilian Toth's first Australian solo exhibition, Release the Hounds.

THE STATE OF PLAY

‘We was all glad as we could be, but Tom was the gladdest of all
because he had a bullet in the calf of his leg.’
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

A boy with a bullet in his calf who couldn’t be happier with his trophy. These are the stories we recount at gatherings: the ironic triumphs, the senseless destruction and the points that turn our lives. Maximilian Toth’s painted narratives are fueled by these moments. Like a Mark Twain protagonist, Toth himself exudes a contagious sense of freedom. An all-American larger-than-life guy with shirt sleeves rolled up ready to throw himself into life’s experiences. His embrace of the present moment, endless sense of play and Southern twang make the semblance even more believable. Sure, he now lives in an east coast city in the US but it is his spirit of play and quest for adventure that makes him more like an urban Huck Finn.

Toth’s artworks are recalled memories of his youthful endeavours melded with the experiences of so many others he knows. His canvases tell the narratives of youth; the games, tom-foolery and sometimes idiocy that, in some way or another, we may all recall engaging in. His won’t-be-tamed girls and boys play out their pranks through chalk-like lines, reminding us all of the unconstraint, abandon and angst of growing up.

Release the Hounds portrays the tension of youth teetering on the cusp of adulthood. The deliberate rebellion against growing up, those indulged moments of hedonism, the undercurrents of tribalism en mass and the urgency to hold onto the freedom of youth are all turned into identifiable scenes. Although some are distinctly American, such as Clamming, there is a universality that is carried in the motives of his painted characters. Toth observes, “…[t]hough the rituals change between destinations and culture, the fact or purpose of that ritual is the same, and I believe that we can identify across our own cultures with that.”

Toth’s snap shots of the moment are sketchy reductions of white lines on black canvas, sometimes with flashes of colour how we might add colour to a dream or memory when recalling it. Toth remarks, “I see the points of emphasis like in a dream, where you wake up and you remember the story and you remember that the shoes were red and that’s about it. I am not interested in recreating the entire world perfectly... I’m interested in crafting a story.”

Toth's often unfilled lines create a visual transparency that prompt the temporal feeling of teen-hood. Yet his images remain strong and sometimes confronting as his antagonists bring their brazen energy to the canvas. There is often a humour in recalling these rites of passage. Toth leaves his narratives without resolve so the viewer is entered into a dialogue with the artworks, as similar memories of one's own teen years are sparked. When we look at his works Duel, Part One and Duel, Part Two we ask ourselves what will happen next? Will the risk pay off?

The yelling and laughter of youth is almost audible as the teens are painted mid-interaction and I realise those are sounds that are increasingly scarce from Australian suburbia today. Playing cricket in the streets is replaced by Nintendo Wii. When the street lights flicker on, it is no longer an understood signal to head home for the evening. We hear increasingly about the growing amount of stress on children and teens. In a society previously so well connected to its outdoors and heralded for its mate-ship, is play something that has been forgotten?

Release the Hounds is an intimate celebration of youth and all it encompasses but it also reminds us of the importance of play: the camaraderie it creates in shared victories and losses and, not to mention, the lessons that are learned along the way together, in all their grit and ultimately glory.

Venita Poblocki

The State of Play
2011