Photos by Maximino Najar
Article by Jeanne Lesinski

Hailing from Carrollton and now living in Bay City, graphic design student Maximino Najar plans to graduate from Saginaw Valley State University in spring of 2011. Like many artists, Najar is developing his skills as a graphic designer so that he'll be able to afford to express himself through other means, particularly painting. In his personal art, mostly large-format paintings, he is exploring various techniques, including collages, stencils, and acrylic paint/marker combinations. His work to date demonstrates his interest in the many kinds of urban graffiti and hip hop around today. And like many artists, his own life experiences inform his work as well. 

Najar has designed posters for local hip hop promoters, and such paintings as "Turn the Table" and "Hip Hop Change" clearly demonstrate his musical taste, which includes what he calls the "old school" artists Run DMC and African Bambada. "It's called 'Change' because through time hip hop was starting to get alot more commercial than what it used to be. When it first started out it was underground." About Run DMC and African Bambada, Najar says, "They changed the whole game, I guess you could say." While Najar dreams of maybe changing the "whole game" of the art world some day, he modestly says, "If a million people were to see my work and be inspired by it, that would be great, but even if only one person sees it and is inspired by it, then I'll feel like I've done my job."

Najar mentions that while there are artists in his family, none really bought into it seriously. "While in high school, I never knew that Saginaw was such an artsy place—and maybe it wasn't then—but now seeing so many young people and older people trying to bring the city back makes it seem like we've got a little renaissance going on." Even so, he acknowledges that choosing to be any kind of artist, whether in music, visual arts, or theater is a conscious choice to struggle because "it's not going to be easy."

But he's no stranger to struggle. In fact, some of his most moving paintings depict challenging life experiences. For example, one untitled painting, dedicated to his grandmother, is fraught with the pain he experienced at her passing. "We had a rough relationship," Najar remembers, "and when she passed away, I had this anger in my heart. . . . I was angry because of how she treated my mom and sister, angry with her that she always wanted to die." Yet, by creating this painting, Najar was able to work through some of these unresolved issues in a nondestructive way. "If I wouldn't have had that—honestly, I was at that time a recovering alcoholic—I was an alcoholic at 25, which is why I left MSU. And if I hadn't had that [painting as an outlet] destructiveness might have taken place."

A muscular arm raised in a clenched fist has already shown up in a number of Najar's paintings, including "Detroit Bomb City," "Fight To Struggle," and "Olympics." The first painting was inspired by a January 2010 day trip to Detroit, where a decrepit skyscraper caught Najar's attention. Although the arm and fist combination purposefully reflects the shape of an atomic bomb's mushroom cloud, Najar sees it not only as a comment on the destruction, but as a call to action. "People need to take back their city. If you don't, it'll just crumble."

The same can be said for Saginaw, according to Najar, or even on the more intimate scale of a family, as in the painting "Fight To Struggle." This piece, which predates "Detroit Bomb City," is a tribute to his mother, who as a single parent raised him and his sister. "The way I see it," he explains, his voice rising in intensity, "alot of times you don't get ahead. You have to fight to struggle. Growing up in a single parent family is an example of that. My mother never got ahead." Yet, he proudly acknowledges that she never stopped trying either. "I dedicated this to my mother for not giving up on us—not giving up on herself." Najar nods. "Being too stubborn to give up, that's a great message people need to hear."

Najar is in a committed relationship and has a young daughter for whom he wants to be the best father he can be, a counter to the father he never had in his own life. On days when other matters might weigh heavily upon him, Najar says that coming home to his daughter, who is happy to see him no matter what, seems to be the antidote to all ills. And he laughs as tells how his fiancee, as his biggest fan, sometimes tells him to get moving when he lacks inspiration or feels timid about showing his work.

In addition to his studies, a new effort this year has been to participate in a couple of art battles, timed competitions during which artists create work on the spot  to compete for prizes and have the chance to sell their work. At the Midland Art Battle, he and teammate Kara Schymanski created the five-piece painting "Olympics," which won the people's choice award. More recently, he participated in the Tri-City Art Battle at the Saginaw Art Museum. For this later event he collaged old cassette tapes with photos from magazines and, using hot glue, attached them to a surface in a mosaic-like fashion. Najar says that he'll continue to explore this form of mixed media, though soon he'll have to start scouring garage sales for more tapes.

© Jeanne Lesinski, 2010