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The Most Social of Structures—The Bronze Sculptures of Max Leiva

Max Leiva’s sculptures are at once sociable, yet detached. Huddling bodies give way to aloof facial expressions, frenetic in the middle of a task; lone figurines tower cliff-like and imposing against bare backdrops, which is, presumably, one of the reasons why some of these works are best viewed with as little surrounding light as possible.

For some pieces, such as Generación II, the protagonists are standing on the past and holding up the future—a pastiche which one could be forgiven for believing was inspired by communist poster depictions of the workers’ struggle. There is little by way of political inertia imposed on the viewer, though, with Leiva’s works offering a stylistic mix between the simple, industrious peoples of L. S. Lowry’s paintings (yet with his sculpture much more fluidly executed than Lowry’s own efforts) and the aesthetic of Fritz Lang’s movie Metropolis

Generacion II Max Leiva Sculpture
‘Generacion II’, standing on the present whilst holding up the future.

The Guatemalan artist, born in 1966 and a graduate of the country’s National School of Fine Arts, spends his working time between his home country and Mexico. The globe-trotting artist, who spent time at the University of Silpakorn in Thailand under a UNESCO scholarship, states that Guatemala lacks sufficient foundry facilities required to undertake his work. After preliminary sketching sessions on paper, small studies of his works are constructed using Plasticine, ceramic clay or gypsum whilst metal frames are used to facilitate the silicone mould-making process. Patination and finishing are then completed in Leiva’s Guatemalan workshop. 

Seis Hermanos Bronze Sculpture Max Leiva
‘Seis Hermanos’. Huddled, yet shy. 

Social awkwardness seems to pervade much of Leiva’s sculptural work. Domineering smooth, monotone backgrounds—often much larger than the figures themselves—contrast finely textured people; people sometimes mutually disinterested in each other but not to the extent of a solo performance. These characters are joined by a common import, that of a fervent interest in some close-up thing. In his piece Seis Hermanos, one could imagine the six brothers focusing on some strange insect, finding their way around it with careful feet. 

Spread Armed Sculpture Max Leiva
‘Al Margen’. Mish-mash layers give the perception of muscle definition, especially to the abdomen. 

In Al Margen, the behaviour is not contained within the facial expressions but by the way the bodies are poised. The pusillanimous spread-armed character in the background is protective over his space yet concerned for the rather dominant character turned away from him: captivating these two characters in the middle of disputation has been undertaken with sheer brilliance and aplomb. The coy neck tilt shows a curious yet caring aspect which completely defines the nature and form of the argument. Seemingly pêle-mêle layers of bronze work together to create muscle tone, as if declaring ecce homo; the clay-coloured patination also exudes a natural, earthy appeal. 

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Isolation is further enforced in his depiction of a modern-day Icarus,  a solo feather-armed man atop a plinth—here, a nuanced facial expression is reminiscent of a 1920’s biplane pilot complete with goggles and head cap; the feet well-heeled, defiantly, over the edge of his platform. 

A wide-ranging body of work makes it difficult to interpret Leiva, quite rightly, as being this way or that, although his ‘group sculptures’ (of social scenes, meretricious relationships and disputing partners) form an archive of human interaction, and does so beautifully. 


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