Beauty in Decay

The watercolor paintings of Max Kauffman capture the sacredness of broken-down houses.

When Max Kauffman moved from Denver to Oakland about a year ago, he became instantly enamored with the area’s old, decaying Victorian houses. In a recent interview, he said he loved the fragility presented by their disrepair, and the often-flimsy ways they were mended. They embodied what Kauffman identifies as the DIY ethos of his generation — the idea of building something with what little you have. To Kauffman, these structures are sacred.

In his new solo show, Your Vulnerability Makes You Beautiful, now on view at Loakal Gallery (which was co-founded by the Express), Kauffman captures these broken-down houses and makeshift structures via whimsical watercolor paintings on paper. In conveying the beauty of the flawed and fragile, he creates imprecise geometric shapes that are full of life. His lines are sometimes perfectly crisp, and other times they bleed into the paper; together, the two styles evoke the notion of imperfection — of something that’s trying to maintain a presentable appearance but ultimately bursts at the seams, letting its true colors seep out.

In “Sanctum,” Kauffman pieces together architectural elements of different houses to form a safe space, away from, in his words, “all the chaos of the outside world.” Surrounding the house, rough brushstrokes seem to represent a colorful, overgrown garden, and a variety of triangles indicate a mountainous landscape. The style is somewhat messy but also deliberate, highlighting the delicacy found in disorder.

The show also consists of a large wall mural and watercolor paintings of animals (mostly birds). All of his work is tied together by a distinct palette. Kauffman combines colors — browns, oranges, blues, and purples — that would, in many cases, clash. But because he uses soft hues, Kauffman imbues in his work only a mild sense of discord, which further reflects the beauty of imperfection. One can often find a shimmer of gold among the colorful disarray of a Kauffman painting. Although they are subtle, the patches of glittery overlay light up the paintings, playfully alluding to hidden gems hiding amid the shambles.

Your Vulnerability Makes You Beautiful runs through September 30 at Loakal (560 2nd St., Oakland). 510-747-9957 or


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