There are few rock stars as scary as those in the Prodigy.
Maxim, Liam Howlett and Keith Flint are in permanent attack mode onstage, churning out an aggressive blend of punk and hardcore techno such as “Warrior’s Dance.”
Offstage and without makeup, Maxim is far from the brutal persona behind the bone-crunching act that has sold more than 25 million records. The tattooed singer, born Keith Palmer in Peterborough, England, has been discreetly painting for years. Now, under the name of MM, he’s holding his first exhibition, “Lepidop Terror,” featuring huge images full of butterflies.
“It started when I caught a moth in my studio,” he says in an interview. “As I cupped it in my hand I thought to myself, ‘how do I know what this moth is thinking of?’ If it had a sword or knife, would it be stabbing me?”
He started drawing butterflies with samurai swords and hatchets, and pondering whether they are gentle, aggressive or acting in self-defense. “I am trying to create the ying and yang in the paintings,” he says. “There are so many angles you can look at it.”
Maxim, 44, sees the butterflies as symbols of life, death, rebirth and reincarnation, as incorporated into the work of artists from Salvador Dali to Damien Hirst. He’s modest about the show, saying it was “daunting.”
The paintings at the I.N.C. Space in London’s Covent Garden are in a blacked-out room, spotlit by the Prodigy’s lighting designers. The cocoon-like space has a raised temperature with gentle perfume and ambient sound wafting. Maxim didn’t want the works on a bland white wall. He wanted a whole experience, “as if you are going to Disneyland and going along on a ride.”
The display just about avoids excessive gimmickry, with the focus still on the paintings, which are for sale from prices of about 3,000 pounds ($4,736) to 15,000 pounds.
Maxim’s images also can be found on skateboards, done by a company called Wesc, and on a limited range of cups, saucers and plates sold at selected outlets such as the Savoy Hotel.
“The story of my getting into art,” says the dreadlocked Maxim, “was basically I just needed some paintings for my walls at home. I went to a few affordable art exhibitions and looked at the art that people were selling and thought, ‘I could do that.’”
He started painting between tours, and his friends liked the landscapes. “The real turning point was about four years ago when I went to New York, and a friend introduced me to a few artists,” Maxim says. “That opened my eyes.”
Maxim moved from oil paint to acrylics and then started to experiment with resin, spray paint and collage.
Proceeds from some of the works are going to his favorite charities, Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Medicins Sans Frontieres. “If you can give something back, you should give something back,” he says.
“MM Art: Lepidop Terror” is at I.N.C. Space, 9-13 Grape Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 8ED, through Sept. 26. The show is free and open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Limited edition prints are also on sale in aid of charity. Information: http://www.inc-space.com, http://mm-gallery.com, http://theprodigy.com or +44-1279-429210.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview is adapted from a longer conversation.)