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Brave New World

Photograph: Drew Reynolds
chicago artist max king cap

Max King Cap

Two years ago, Max King Cap conceived God’s Punk, a story about an interracial romance at a military academy. Initially, the seasoned local artist considered creating a graphic novel or turning the tale into a play. Eventually he began to envision giant set pieces and, although he’d never formally composed music, an a cappella score.

As the project grew, Cap decided to create his first operetta. “This is the grandest project I could have imagined,” says Cap, who, at 43, is a sculptor, painter, videographer, and an art and design instructor at Columbia College.

When it débuts on February 4th at the Hyde Park Art Center, Cap’s undertaking-which he describes as “a giant-size dollhouse set with a musical video accompaniment"-will occupy 2,400 square feet. The interactive exhibition will contain a disco-ball sun and a faux lake; in lieu of a live orchestra, videos will play the musical score. On selected weekends, a local band-the contemporary-classical Mung-and three singer-actors, including Cap himself, will perform.

Sketches courtesy of the artist
max king cap sketch

max king cap sketch
max king cap illustration
A glimpse of Cap’s creative process through his sketches: (above) the installation as a whole; (center left) riffs on an afterlife allegory central to God’s Punk. The greenhouse in the drawing represents nature enslaved– or hell; (bottom left) a sketch called “Garden Domino” shows Eden from God’s point of view.

As he developed God’s Punk, Cap took inspirational cues from the Bible and from American history. “What was the original sin of the New World? It had to be slavery, from which we’ve never really recovered,” says the Chicago-raised artist, whose given name refers to two seminal figures: Max for Malcolm X and King for Martin Luther King Jr. “The divisions of our society still run along lines that were etched very deeply a couple hundred years ago.”

The fact that Cap had not settled on a medium didn’t bother potential funders when he proposed the concept in 2005. He won a grant from Creative Capital, a New York–based nonprofit that supports artistic innovation. Then the newly revamped Hyde Park Art Center, which had previously shown Cap’s work, came calling. “We already knew Max was a strong visual artist,” says Allison Peters, the center’s director of exhibitions. “This is a new direction for him.”

To complete the project, Cap took a six-month sabbatical in Riverside, California. The location allowed him time with his wife, Ciara Ennis, who moved there to curate exhibitions at the California Museum of Photography. (Cap met the British artist in Germany, where he lived for a time-they married in Chicago three years ago before she moved to the West Coast.) His time in California brought other perks: he got to scout possible L.A. venues for God’s Punk, and was even relieved of a longtime Chicago woe. “I am so glad I did not have to root for the Cubs anymore,” Cap says. “I gave that team 35 years of my life, and they broke my heart every time.” This past summer, Cap rooted for the Dodgers instead.

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