'It was a happy accident.'
That's what Mike Maxwell calls his acrylic-on-wood portrait of Biggie Smalls gracing the cover of this week's CityBeat, selected because this week marks the 13th anniversary of Smalls' murder.
As a 17-year-old, Maxwell didn't understand the entirety of Smalls' final album because, in his words, 'I was still a kid.'
But late last year, he was working on a new show about artists' legacies, and 'everything on my iPod was annoying.' Rediscovering a random track inspired Maxwell to reconnect with the late rapper's work.
'I was like, 'I should go and find all those old songs I haven't listened to in forever.' As I went back through his whole discography, I related to it differently as a grown man than I did as a teenage boy. And I got addicted to it and played it nonstop for a month or something.'
In the meantime, he painted two portraits of the late East Coast rapper, among others on his website, mikemaxwellart.com. Even now, Maxwell admits Smalls' music is still in heavy listening rotation. And, while he better understands the lyrics, the piece—'It Don't Make Sense Going to Heaven with the Goodie Goodies'—is about more than a rekindled attraction.
'It sort of just happened. I picked it back up and it just sparked a whole new interest,' he said. 'And, at the same time, I was working on my show about artists leaving legacies after they die.'
Unsurprisingly, while Smalls' legacy was his music, Maxwell's is his art.
'I think—I know—it's important for me to leave something on this Earth once my body and my loud mouth are no longer on it.'
And what better way to express himself than with the one constant in his life? With artists surrounding him while growing up in San Diego, he's always had a creative outlet.
'It started when I was a young child and I could pick up a pencil in my hands.'
Now that Maxwell's moved onto painting blue-faced portraits on birch and pine—he currently has a show at m modern in Palm Springs—he can't imagine his life any different.
'If I didn't [make art], I'd be a mess to be around; people wouldn't like me very much,' he joked. 'I'd probably growl a lot.'
Growling aside, Maxwell is humble about his success.
'My reward is the process of making art,' he said. 'Everything that happens after that is just profit to me. Everything is extra; it's a bonus.'