Honoring The Artist: Peter Max

Although some people know the name Peter Max, more people probably recognize his artwork, particularly those pieces created during the 1960s. Such endeavors stood for a unique time and place in America, never to be duplicated again. His posters for “The Summer of Love” symbolized a state of mind and a spirit that resonates even today. At the time they were described, stylistically speaking, as “polychromatic,” “psychedelic,” Art Nouveau and Fauvist. Some historians have also characterized his pieces as Neo-Expressionism, although that label, which is also applied to Eric Fischl’s paintings, seems somewhat general.

No matter. The point is this: Max is an extremely versatile, gifted artist (working with diverse media including oils, pastels, video and computers) who still maintains a signature style along with recurring, wide-ranging subjects, like the Statute of Liberty and the cosmos. The subjects evoke themes of discovery (one image shows Christopher Columbus’ ships), the connection between what’s in the sky and what’s on earth, and a joie de vivre worldview.

Max lives what he paints; his own joie de vivre is continuing, consistent and infectious. In a recent interview with this critic, he puts it this way: “Every day, when I come up the elevator to my studio’s seventh floor, I know that in five minutes, I will take off my jacket, put on my apron and start painting. I can’t wait. I have a full-time D.J. and then I will start to dance.”

Start to dance? Is Max kidding? In a way. He means he’ll start dancing with his paintbrush as he begins to create an image. He notes that he may paint for several hours, but we imagine that he will probably be interrupted several times as he engages in other activities. Max seems like an extraordinary multi-tasker, but his ability to focus is equally special.

We wonder if Max’s many interests derive from his diverse experiences growing up in places like Berlin, Shanghai, Tibet, Africa and Israel. (His time in China left an especially deep impression on him.)

While Max’s involvements and past experiences are very much a part of his present life, he never takes things for granted. New discoveries are extremely important to him. When he is asked, “What’s new with the world?” which was meant as a figurative question, he responded with, “We just learned that a galaxy has trillions of stars and that there are hundreds of universes. I was so overwhelmed, I couldn’t sleep for three nights. It’s beyond belief.”

And how about human beings? Is there information about us that is similarly beyond belief? “Imagine trillions of cells in our bodies,” Max answered without hesitation. “We have to protect these cells. One way is to become a vegan. I have been one for 25-35 years. It keeps me lean and looking like I am 21 years old.”

Max has managed to transform his excitement about the universe to personal health issues and sincere concern about life. He even offered to help this critic with a vegan diet. When asked about what aspects in life he really cared about, what advice he would give people, he again answered quickly and enthusiastically: “Love all and serve all; be kind to animals; serve the world, and it will serve you.”

We can’t think of better advice.

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