By O’Hara Shipe

Art has always been a part of Maxine Fekete’s life. From the time she could walk, she would spend endless days playing with splatter paint in the backyard with her six siblings. Her mother, an avid thrift shopper, would often bring home old canvases and furniture for the kids to paint.

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“I have three adopted brothers and I think the earliest memory I have of them was my mom putting us in bathing suits and letting us loose with paint in the backyard,” Fekete says with a fleeting smile. “One time, I found an old portfolio of airbrush drawings and for years I assumed they were my mother’s because she was the artistic one. It still surprises me to know that my dad had created them.”

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By the time Fekete had reached puberty, her childhood memories of an unadulterated freedom had been violently replaced with chaos. After her parent’s divorce, her mother fell into a toxic relationship with another man. With domestic violence setting the backdrop, Fekete found her life had degenerated into chaos.

“We moved — a lot. You know, it was just this very back and forth thing and a lot of times I had to step up and take care of the kids and even my parents. It just went on too long,” explains Fekete between small sips of her Corona.

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Amid the violence, Fekete had to contend with being an outsider within a blue-blooded area of Tennessee. She recalls her peers complaining about the color of their new cars while her family struggled to make ends meet.

“I’d just be like, ‘oh yeah, when my mom and I went to the food bank today,’ and they would just stare at me. It was a real contrast. I just had these rich asshole friends who I was always putting things in perspective for,” says Fekete.

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As soon as she had a chance, Fekete packed her car, headed north, and left her problems back in the buckle of the Bible Belt. Or, at least she thought she had. Still clinging to an abusive ex and trying to run from a restrictive Evangelical upbringing, she realized that no matter how fast she ran, the dark shadows she carried with her would always be one step away.

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“I freaked out my first [Alaskan] winter and I remember telling my mom that I was going to move to San Francisco with a friend and she kind of dismissed me,” explains Fekete. “But when the first summer came around, I was able to find a better living situation and kind of get my feet under me.”

With the help of her grandparents, Fekete enrolled at UAA where she stayed “undeclared” as long as possible. Taking three general education classes and one art class each semester helped keep her sane enough to finally declare as an art major with a focus on wheel throwing ceramics.

Fekete said her grandparents, who were funding her tuition, were surprisingly supportive of her decision to pursue art. According to Fekete, if she was healthy and happy, her grandparents were happy to financially support her.

Despite her natural talent for crafting functional pottery, Fekete felt the pangs of restriction creeping up again.

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“I just felt my work stagnating and I hated everything I was doing,” recalls Fekete with a deep sigh. “[UAA Art Professor] Steve Godfrey was working with me on my BFA application and suggested I take a break from wheel throwing and try hand building ceramics. After my first assignment, I was just like, ‘fuck, this is what I needed.’”

Free to create without a functional purpose, Fekete began to thrive as an artist. She also began down a path of self-discovery that enabled her to piece together the fragments of her personhood.

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“I don’t go into a project thinking that I am going to tell story, it just kind of naturally happens a lot of times. Like, I remember being completely pissed about a sculpture I was working on and being so blocked. Then when I was getting lunch with my boyfriend, we came up with this crazy idea of recreating a pod of whales swimming against the ocean current, but instead of whales it would be penises and the waves would be vaginas,” laughs Fekete. “But what I came to realize is that I was trying to make sense of my own repressed sexuality and all the bullshit I was fed as a child about protecting my virginity. It was liberating to create dozens of little clay penises and vaginas!”

Artistically, Fekete prefers to work cerebrally. Before she even touches clay, she thinks of a word she wants to express through her art. She then relentlessly searches the internet to see every permutation of her chosen word.

“I’ll look at the origin of the word, its antonyms, its synonyms, its visual representations. I mean, I just dig so deep into it that I can physically feel the word,” Fekete explains.

For her upcoming first solo show, Fekete is exploring a new word and it isn’t one she expected to encounter.

“Happy,” says Fekete with a grin. “For the first time in my life I can truly say that I am happy. Happy where I am. Happy with who I am. Yeah, I’m just happy.”

Fekete will open her show on Friday, June 7 at 5pm at Akela Collective (320 W 6th Avenue, Suite 132 F).

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