Max Steiner is the rare, multi-talented craftsman who can bend any material to match his creative whim, from bright plastics to metals to the crystals he mines with his own hands. A mechanical engineer by training, Steiner has moved seamlessly between architectural modeling, product design, and jewelry creation over the past few years, garnering attention from as diverse outlets as Playboy, Hennessy, and Scientific American.
We recently tracked Steiner down in his workshop in Bushwick to talk about lasers, diamonds, and the challenges of sculpting one's own brain.
SCOUT: How did you get started as an artist?
MAX: I was studying mechanical engineering back in the day, and then I transferred to Parsons; I have a degree in product design with a minor in metal and computer design.
SCOUT: So you can work with just about any material? Is there anything you're particularly excited about working on right now?
MAX: Well, the cinder blocks, I love these things. They took me four months to develop, surprisingly, because they're actually made from cement, and the chain is steel. It's been challenging to get the cement to be hard enough to withstand day to day abuse. I've also been working with a certain reactive metal ... I hate to talk about it yet, but ... I've never seen anyone work with it the way I want to ... I really like Herkimer diamonds; they're starting to get big in jewelry right now. I've actually been mining these for like 20 years, with my family, right upstate.
SCOUT: You mine your own diamonds? What's involved in that?
MAX: Yes! I was supposed to go just this weekend with my Dad. You just break rock. They're actually quartz, but they're the finest quartz: they come out of the ground fully faceted. It's pretty amazing. You don't have to cut them. When they formed it was from water with a lot of silica, so over millions of years, the water leeched out through the rocks, leaving the silica, which formed into these stunning crystals. You can open up a pocket of the rock, and some of these amazing crystals will just be sitting there. It's awesome when you find it. My family's been doing it for years.
SCOUT: I love that your parents got you into mining. Does the artistic gene run in the family?
MAX: My mom was an art teacher in Brooklyn and the Bronx for 20 years, and my Dad was a production manager at a clothing company, and he had a couple stores in Westchester. So, yes. Definitely.
SCOUT: Is there anything in the works that you're especially focused on right now?
MAX: The masks. I do a couple of those a day. I draw them on the computer, in a space that has all of the ones I've done; I like to keep everything in front of me, so that I can do a different type of eye hole or horn, I'll have the whole library in front of me to work from. I draw it here and then I use the laser to cut it flat out of various types of plexiglass, then I do all the inlay, I glue the pieces into each other, like with these lace layers...when you put them on, they're very dramatic. I've had a few different stylists take pictures, including one for a recent Playboy spread. People just respond to them.
SCOUT: You seem to have a ton of diverse projects happening at once, are there any that spring from the wildest parts of your creative heart?
MAX: [Laughs] I like brain stuff. I do 3D modeling in the computer, and I had these brain ideas, so I went and volunteered for some brain experiments in exchange for the MRI files. So, I had the MRI done, I got the files, and then I went about using medical software trying to convert the medical files, which are read in volumetric pixels, into a format that I could read in 3D software, and I figured out how to do it, I was able to extract the different partsmy brain, my skull and my skininto different files. I brought them all into 3D, and then I played with them and I was able to slice the 3D images and then lay out the slices and then cut them out with the laser, and then stack them, so I could actually build my brain. I did that, and I put it in a box and put it on my shelf. I just did it ... like I do all my stuff. I just really liked the idea!
Want more? Find Max Steiner's lovely jewelry, masks, collaborations and more at Max Steiner Design.