In 1948, at age 17, Maxwell arrived in Halifax, Canada aboard the S.S. General Sturgess, was taken by train to Montreal and sheltered by the Canadian Jewish Congress as a war orphan. By the age of 19, he was already supporting himself and had married.
Freedom and escape are ongoing themes in his explosions of colour that have their roots in North American and European abstract expressionism. After flirting with figurative painting in the early 1960s (The Goddess Justitia), Maxwell spent the1970s immersed in the Tachism of Paul-Émile Borduas (1905-1960) and in the Automatism of Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002) whose works he absorbed at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. Taking his cue from the desire to communicate pure emotion, Maxwell began to apply his paint with powerful directional strokes, using a palette knife.
“Kandinsky’s paintings were light. Mine are heavier, more dramatic. My idea of beginnings (a Creation theme that recurs) are explosive. He is more serene. Yet he was rebellious. He didn’t want to conform. He wanted to be free and this is my ideal,” says Maxwell. This urge for freedom is even evident in the way Maxwell discarded the table under a vase of flowers in the 1994 canvas Joie de Vivre No. 3 in which only a shaded area suggests a supporting surface. Stylized flowers painted over the past three years are characterized by impasto petals, some in paint wound like yarn (Daisies in a Vase). They sit in pots woven with a thick wicker of multicoloured paint.
“Homage to Riopelle” incorporates Riopelle's famous technique, executed with palette knives and by squeezing colours onto the canvas directly from the tube. A similar sized Riopelle would sell at auction for close to $50,000.