Max-Karl Winkler. American, born 1938

Artist Statement

Winkler discusses his teach philosophy to the Smithsonian Associates

My work is informed by a fascination with myth, history, and language, with the expression of spiritual impulses through words and images. Influences of Maya and Aztec sculpture, of the woodcuts of Hokusai and Hiroshige, of British wood engravers and woodcutters of the twentieth century, are apparent there.

My work in recent years has been in pen and ink, woodcut, and wood engraving, with increasing interest in more complicated techniques: the multiblock color woodcut, the reduction woodcut, and the whiteline woodcut. The main subjects of this work are the human figure (especially the female nude) and the landscape. My treatment of these subjects, more realistic than abstract, is intended not to describe them, but to express the profound mystery and ineffable grace that they embody.

I do not believe in talent: I believe that any intelligent person can learn to make an intelligent visual statement, and that learning drawing is fundamental to all forms of visual expression.

It appears to me that the arts, in general, are not widely respected by the American public, and that the visual arts are not well taught in the public schools. Part of my aim is to make drawing, and art in general, more accessible and more understandable. The so-called “art world” has an aura of magic attached to it, and I want to bring my students to an understanding that effective pictures result as much from logic and planning as from inspiration.

That said, I also attach great importance to the use of high-quality materials and professional practices, and I like to expose the students to the greatest possible variety of materials and techniques of their subject.

And in the end, I hope that my students will leave their classes with a greater grasp of the fundamentals of art, with an awareness art requires an different and more intense way of seeing than they have known before, with a life that is richer and better because of their study of art, and with the satisfaction of having produced evidence of their learning.


Smithsonian Studio Arts Blog
Friday, June, 14, 2013
By Bill Richards

Max-Karl Winkler: Excellence in Review

As a student I’ve had the good fortune of having several good teachers, and some of those teachers were REALLY good! The qualities which placed them in that echelon were few, but vital. First, they loved teaching- the act of transferring understanding and proficiency was like a catharsis for them. Also, they understood their subject matter exceptionally well (the history, the questions, the critical discourse, etc.). These teachers recognized when to diligently instruct and when to let go, both for classes and individual students (that was whom they taught to- individuals, not crowds). Max-Karl Winkler, although never having directly taught me, radiates many of these admirable qualities. He has been a professional practicing artist and teacher in excess of 40 years, over the past 25 of which have been in the DC metropolitan area. Max sees the potential for articulate artistic expression in those who crave it enough to learn its materials, techniques and, of course, practice! In his opinion, the ability to create effective art isn’t linked to some inborn quality, art can be understood strategically through its fundamentals. This perspective of accessibility is crucial - the dominant point being that potent artistic expression is a result of logical decision making, which comes through knowledge and practice, and less through some elusive magical muse.

Angry Girl on Train, by Max-Karl Winkler
Angry Girl on Train
Ellen at Work, by Max-Karl Winkler
Ellen at Work

This philosophy is one which Max follows in his own work, as well as imparting it to his students. The motivations of access and understanding are undercurrents which stem from his "fascination with myth, history and language." These inspirations are about communication, and the transference of ideas. This symbolic root is evident in Max’s work- not only do the prints I’ve seen possess subliminally understood narratives, but the compositional decisions transcend each piece’s individual story to a product of palpable poetry. The articulate combination of composition, motive and medium are merely the descriptive elements of what makes Max’s work so engaging. There’s a strong sensation that while you’re witnessing a moment, there’s definitely a past and future which you become implicitly aware of.

Gull Lake, by Max-Karl Winkler
Gull Lake
Standing Nude, by Max-Karl Winkler
Standing Nude

I accepted the opportunity to attend Max’s final class before his retirement from teaching; this was a figure drawing class. There were two models, which afforded multiple possibilities for interaction and spatial conversation- which the students were encouraged to explore through their compositions’ vantage points. Posing strategies, which were mostly determined by Max, included long intervals of 20-30 minute poses, and short dynamic poses (1-2 minutes, determined by the models). The first allowed for detailed exploration of the figures, while the latter provided vibrant gestural studies, as those positions are nearly impossible to hold for extended periods of time. Max went on to enforce that the gesture wasn’t the making of art, but the learning of it, and that one wasn’t going to “make a masterpiece the first 500 times, or so” doing it. This further illustrated his commitment to building physical memory and familiarity with materials. His propensity towards strategy in composition lends such sensible expert advice as extending the vertical and horizontal planes of a picture when one is drawing from real-life. This reinforces accounting for space, concerning points- like between a knee and a nose, or a hip and an elbow; thus making an accurate composition that’s reinforced through deliberately learning to see one’s subject matter.

The enrichment one experiences in teaching their craft is multi-faceted; teaching makes the teacher a better artisan via explaining inert concepts and techniques to new students. That process enables the teacher to view his/her own work with a fresh perspective, thereby expanding their artisanship; this translates to them becoming better teachers, and the cycle perpetuates itself. For teachers who love the vocation and what they teach, the undertaking is a tremendous fortune; and having those teachers is a fantastic advantage for students. Professional artists who elect to teach are a terrific asset, especially when they are as accomplished, as Max is, at both endeavors.



born 1938 New Braunfels, TX

1968 MFA, The University of Texas, Austin
1963 BFA, The University of Texas, Austin
1959 BA, The University of Texas, Austin
public collections
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Georgetown University, Washington DC
Library of Congress, Washington DC
National Museum of American History, Washington DC



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