We're all excited about the upcoming Matsuri festival this Monday, right? The food. The music. The culture. So, you might wonder why an arts writer is talking to you about Matsuri. Here's why. Matsui is also an amazing art experience. And one of my favorite local artists, Maxx Gogski, is not only a vendor, but the designer and illustrator of Matsuri's bespoke beer labels. I've been wanting to introduce you to her for ages, and this seemed like the perfect time to do it.  Maxx was gracious enough to chat during what is likely a super busy time of pre-festival prep.  She's funny and smart and so talented. Her work make can't help but make you smile. Here's what she shared about her work, her inspiration, her connection to Matsuri and Japanese art and culture.  And if you read all the way through to the end, you'll some sage advice about art-making and life as an artist. 

Smile Politley: You have such a unique style and visual vocabulary. How do you describe your work?

Maxx Gogski: Creepy-cute, I love the dichotomy of ugly yet beautiful, gross and cute, sweet with a twinge of attitude. My current enamel pin designs are a good example of this. I’ve taken what some find icky, parasitic organisms, and cutesy-fied it by adding bright colors, faces, and simplifying their attributes.

SP: How did you find your monsters? Or did they find you?

Gogski: As a child, I went looking for them. I would think about what the monsters were doing under my bed and the worlds they lived in. As I got older, I became interested in science fiction and fantasy books, being sucked into the worlds of Harry Potter and Jules Verne. While working on my BFA at The Art Institute of Chicago, I found myself being more interested in scientific illustration. From the detailed illustrations I started simplifying and combining different aspects of the animals to create something new. These creatures became the first screen printed stickers I made.

SP: How did you first get involved in Matsuri? How has your role evolved? What can we expect from you this year?

Gogski: My family has been involved with the Japan House for years. My brother has been studying tea ceremony for about 14 years.  He and my mom would assist with the prep for many of the Japan House events. A couple years ago, Jennifer Gunji, the Director of the Japan House, included art vendors to the event. I along with other local makers + crafters, were invited to participate. It is one of my favorite events in the C-U area and I'm excited to be apart of it each year! My role expanded from vendor last year, to include illustrating the beer labels for the two beers that were donated by Triptych Brewing. As last year's theme was celebrating Japan House’s 20th anniversary, I was asked to create a connection between traditional and modern Japanese aesthetics. So I designed the two labels that when placed together, the tree branches would visually connect to create the shape of a heart. The figures are dressed in traditional kimonos and contemporary dress. This year I was asked to create an illustration that included five auspicious animals playing in the Japan House gardens.


SP: I remember when I first saw your toots and ice cream cones they seemed to have a Japanese pop art aesthetic. Has that been a reference or source of inspiration?

Gogski: It has been a huge influence on my style. When I was a kid, my favorite movie was My Neighbor Totoro, and I was obsessed with Pokemon. In middle/high school I spent all my money and time at the bookstores picking out the perfect manga series to start reading, or on my computer playing games. I’m still interested in the aesthetic and incorporating some of the ideas just not as involved as I used to be 10 years ago.

SP: What inspires you as an artist?

Gogski: Probably everything! I love looking at what other artists are creating, what my friends are doing, how some objects look like they have a face on them, and researching the structure and history of animals and plants.

SP: You have worked in a variety of media, what are you into right now?

Gogski: The media changes on the topic and how it communicates the concept. I’m also a sucker for when I get a new material or tool, I want to mess with it instantly! The past couple of days I’ve been working with watercolors because i have a new pallet. If I didn’t have art sales coming up I would be repairing my grandmother's quilt by hand.

SP: What are you most looking forward at this year's festival?

Gogski: The food and drinks! It is always fun to see and taste the combinations that the vendor come up with.

SP: What's up next for you after Matsuri?

Gogski: I’ll be a vendor at The Made Fest, The Freaky Friday Flair up, and the Tuscola Market. I’ll hopefully be updating my Etsy, making a website, repairing my grandma’s old quilt, finishing a beaded dress, making a baby blanket for a friend, finally watch the new animated spiderman movie, and have a glass of wine.

SP: Anything else you want to share with our readers?

Gogski: Follow your heart + your passion. Everyone has something to share, each of us has a unique voice. Thank you for listening to mine.

P.S. please don’t buy super crappy art supplies… also, check out the IDEA Store. They have lots of fun and good stuff!

Matsuri Festival
Japan House
Sunday, September 8, noon to 9 p.m
Free but bring money to eat, drink, and buy art

Follow Maxx Gogski on Instagram and stop by Matsuri to check out her work.

Photos courtesy of Maxx Gogski

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story featured a typo of the artists' name, which has now been corrected throughout.