M at Maitland, the collagist behind Sotheby’s Luxury Week artwork, sees digital images as his “clay”, which he moulds and melds together to form Surrealist-Pop abstractions. Even if you don’t know him by name, you will know Maitland’s work: through his fashion images and films he has permeated luxury's inner sanctum with campaigns for prestige brands such as Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Hermès and Kenzo, as well as editorial projects for Vogue Japan, Harper's Bazaar, V Magazine, Interview and Vanity Fair. As the creative director of London-based agency Big Active, has also designed album covers for artists including Goldfrapp and Prince.
And yet while shaping clay is slow and meditative, Maitland’s digital renderings are bursting with energy. They make the eyes skip and the mind race with their unusual juxtapositions, as he pits the futuristic against the nostalgic and the phantasmagorical against the familiar. Unusually, a quiet cerebral quality sits comfortably alongside palpable accents of pulp melodrama.
A case in point is his vision for Luxury Week, which places five extraordinary sale objects in a part sci-fi, part mythological setting depicted under a brooding sky. Among the treasures “popping out” from this ethereal backdrop are a rare Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore chronograph in black ceramic and a Harry Winston diamond necklace punctuated by a showstopping emerald and diamond pendant, so weighty that it appears to have cracked open the globe-like egg that it swings above, revealing a crater in the shape of Africa.
There’s further alluring symbolism in this fusionist landscape too: “The bird [depicted in the artwork] is an Egyptian vulture, which was a subtle nod to the emerald necklace and the origin of the first emeralds mined in the ‘Cleopatra mines’ of the Red Sea in around 330BC,” says the artist. “My images are populated by high and low culture, but finished in a way that’s seductive. There’s no reason why I can’t have a hamburger next to a Louis Vuitton bag, because that’s how it is in life. Part of my rationale is that my work should be unpretentious and accessible. Its purpose is to be enjoyed.”
Maitland honed his skills at Warner Brothers, which he joined after art college, creating record covers with a distinct Dadaist edge steered by a love of Pop Art. “Growing up, I loved Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Pierre et Gilles, James Rosenquist and Peter Phillips,” he says. “And later the dreamlike quality of Surrealists such as Salvador Dalí and René Magritte.”
Influenced by the exuberance of the 1980s, Maitland began to appropriate the cultural signifiers of his youth to form new narratives that push and pull into the past, present and future. Hot dogs, cans of Coca-Cola, vinyl records and swirling disco patterns are paired with desert plains, luscious plants, Corinthian columns and zoomorphic forms along with oleaginous red lips, gleaming nails and music icons to form a heady synthesis of references. These works were put together in ways very distant from the way collagists work today. “I say I’m from the digital age but really I’m not. At Warner Brothers in the 1990s, album artwork was pasted together in black and white on boards!” he says.
Creating the collages for Goldfrapp’s Black Cherry album in 2003 was a turning point, he adds. “I decided I wanted to develop a proper body of work as an image maker outside of music and towards fashion.” Indeed, his psychedelic “Electric Jungle” video for Parisian band Kenzo – created for their Resort 2013 collection – was a viral sensation and arguably set the pace for fashion shorts online. Today his oeuvre, otherworldly and transportive, continues to reach towards new horizons. This year, Maitland explored the world of NFTs with an art collection developed with the electronic music duo Galantis. It sold out in less than an hour.
More recently, he's collaborated with A.I. artist Claudia Rafael for a special project using his complex beauty collages: “We trained the A.I. software to learn the images and then replicate them,” he says. “There are all these amazing stages where it hasn't quite mastered the process and everything is distorted. It looks beautiful but sort of grotesque at the same time. I really love that.”
Sotheby’s Luxury Week will take place in New York from 23 November–9 December. For more information visit https://www.sothebys.com/en/series/luxury-week-new-york-2021?locale=en