The colorful artwork of Peter Max is among the most recognizable art spanning generations since the sixties. Peter Max defined pop culture through his art at a time when the Beatles were changing the world's outlook with their music. His openness and willingness to meet new people and experience life for all it has to offer is what keeps him so young and relevant seeming to never age from decade to decade. Peter Max is a wonderfully welcoming man with talent that one not only visually sees on his canvases but also can feel in his aura.
Peter Max is so much more than a mere artist that garnered fame for his color filled statements of beautiful artwork.
I feel so fortunate to of had the opportunity to get to know the man behind the work that impacted my life as a child of the 60's and 70's. Peter Max has taken viewers out of this atmosphere and into a colorful cosmic world filled with color and love through decades of war and peace. Peter Max has transcended political party lines getting to know, and proudly painting for, six United States Presidents including painting six renditions of the Statue of Liberty at the White House for President and Mrs. Reagan and painting 100 portraits of President Clinton spanning 20 feet wide by 5 feet high.
Peter Max was born in Germany but spent most of his childhood growing up living in Shanghai, China is where he began to develop his artistic abilities and his true love of art.
I asked the wonderful Peter Max at what age he remembered first beginning to create art.
Peter responded "at two years old; my father would draw with me in Shanghai". His mother recognized her son's artistic talent and looked for someone to teach him to grow his abilities. She found an artist on the street who sent his daughter, Umba, over to begin teaching Peter when he was only three years of age, becoming his beloved nanny as well.
Asking Peter Max who first inspired him as a young artist was a very easy question for him to answer?
Even after studying great artists such as Van Gogh, his father and nanny Umba were Peter Max's immediate answers. When he left Shanghai at age of ten Peter remembers crying as he left his art teacher nanny Umba and his beloved kitty behind.
Without prompting, Peter Max shared with me how he made his first friend as a boy in New York.
The family moved to Israel and Paris before making their final move to New York in the 1950's. Peter Max was in a new world as a young teenager. He told me that he met his first friend in the school locker room after hearing a startling musical note being sung. The operatic voice belonged to Paul Sorvino who he is still close friends with.
Gaining in popularity, I asked Peter Max "When did you first feel that you where finally publicly recognized as an artist?"
The ever humble Peter Max discussed with me how he appeared on a couple of TV shows. The first time he sat with Johnny Carson he was on air for 25 min and went on to being a guest on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show three more times. He also appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. Ed Sullivan followed that show by devoting an entire show to Peter Max.
Just coming out of art school Peter explained how his style was very apropos for the 60's. Peter Max told me that the most defining moment for him realizing that he was a well known artist came at age 24 or 25 when he was walking through New York City with his three year old son, Adam. Adam viewed the four Peter Max Life magazine covers at a news stand and shouted to his father "Isn't that you?" Peter bought all four copies from the news stand. When the salesman handed Peter the issues he recognized the cover photo belonging to his customer and pulled out two more copies of the magazine asking Peter to sign, which he proudly did.
The word psychedelic automatically brings to mind Peter Max. I asked him how this makes him feel that he is used to define the word and was such an important part of the 1960s to 70s?
In his humble answer Peter made the simple statement that it was "just a period". He does not view himself as a psychedelic person but as a Yogi. Although most link the Beatles with bringing awareness of yoga to the public it was Peter Max who actually brought yoga into the mainstream in the United States. Peter conveyed to me that following studying yoga with Swami Satchidananda Peter brought him to America. After opening yoga centers Peter received a phone call from George Harrison with Ringo proudly telling him that they also had their own Swami Maharishi Mahesh in England.
Even though no credit was given to Peter Max for the movie "Yellow Submarine" people automatically acknowledge Peter for the movie's artwork leading me to ask Peter "What was your actual personal involvement with the Beatles and did you work on 'Yellow Submarine'?"
Being close friends with the Beatles he was called upon by them to work on the movie. In order to do the job Peter would of had to spend six months to a year in Europe and could not commit the time. Instead Peter Max offered his advice and consultation for the artwork and then, although he had never personally met him, recommended the German artist, Heinz Edelmann, well known for copying Max's style of work. Peter told me that when he did finally meet Edelmann, Heinz handed Peter his business card that read "Heinz Edelmann, the German Peter Max". Peter Max asked of Heinz Edelmann one favor, "to take my name off of your card".
He is often referred to as a hippy and free spirit, but seems to contradict those opinions by working as an artist promoting corporations. I questioned Peter "How do you see yourself and define who you are?"
Peter Max answered me that he loves the title of hippy because it means to him someone who is "thinking cosmic and futuristic". As a Yogi Peter Max's true feelings about his life is a line stated in yoga, "Love all and serve all".
Coming to and living in the United States can be seen as a landmark event in Peter Max's life, evident in viewing his series of American Flags and Liberty works giving the Statue center stage. I queried Peter Max how it came about that he worked with Lee Iacocca of Chrysler to save the Statue of Liberty?
In 1976 Peter Max began painting the Liberties in celebration of the country's bicentennial. He went on to celebrate the Statue by painting Liberties in the years following. In 1981 he was invited to paint six Liberties at the White House for President Reagan and his wife Nancy. Upon returning to New York a friend came to him deeply concerned about the destruction of the Statue of Liberty due to its dire need of renovation. Seeing an ad with Lee Iacocca and Chrysler brought to mind a friend of Peter's who had the ability to contact Lee. Soon Peter Max and Lee Iacocca worked in harmony to raise the tremendous amount of funds needed to renovate the beautiful statue. Peter Max stated to me how he appreciates America as being the most artistic nation because of its diversity.
The man and his works do not seem to age rather evolve with what is happening in society. I asked Peter Max "How old are you, how old do you actually feel and what keeps your work relevant?"
Although a bit past 70 years young Peter admits to feeling more like he is in his late 30's to early 40's, and even sometimes still in his 20's. Peter Max credits his love for creativity in keeping him young stating that "Creativity and I am one! Just as a person may be born with blue eyes a person is also born with creativity already a part of them". Being a Yogi keeps him focused and humble. Being a total vegan helps him to look and feel young and energetic.
With creating so many works of art I questioned Peter; "Do you have a favorite piece that you have created or are most proud of?"
Just as a proud parent Peter lovingly told me that all of his works are his favorite and they all make a statement. The one that has become his most popular work is "Love", an image with the word Love floating on a colorful ombre background coupled with a profile of a girl.
When I asked him how many pieces of art has he created, Peter joyfully answered "More than 4 pieces of art." He continues to paint every day, staying creative 24 hours a day. Peter speaks like the proud father he is of his son and daughter. His voice sparkles when explaining how he met his incredible wife 15 years ago and knew from the first moment that he saw her that he was going to marry her.
Peter Max is not only an icon and a talented artist, after having the honor of speaking with him I believe that much of his creativity is derived from being an amazing human with a sense of gratitude for the purity of life. He sees the good in all living creatures even the tiniest of bugs that he finds in his abode which he will gently pick up to carry down 15 flights of stairs to place safe and alive in the peaceful park across the street from his building. The art of Peter Max is symbolic of the vivacious person that the man, Peter Max, is.
All should follow the lead of Peter Max and never be afraid to dance!
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