Peter Max is the perfect artist to celebrate July 4 each year by creating the cover on Dan’s Papers. You might even say that the holiday is a metaphor for Max himself: cheerful, colorful, bursting with imagination and good deeds. We feel invigorated when we celebrate July 4; we feel equally invigorated when we look at Max’s images and/or talk with him in person. Yet there’s more to the man who is called “America’s contemporary painter laureate.” He sincerely cares about the world, its people, problems and well-being. His iconic images through the years reflect this idea, whether they’re luscious flowers in a vase, the Statute of Liberty, a woman lying among abstract shapes (recalling the style of Gustav Klimt), portraits of JFK or the sunset.
Born in Berlin and raised in many countries including Shanghai, Tibet, Israel and France, Max’s creations also represent the diverse cultures that he knows so well. Perhaps we should change his label of “America’s painter laureate” to an “international painter laureate.”
You’ve been really busy as of late, as you usually are. It’s interesting because your subjects are all so different. Let’s start with Taylor Swift.
I did portraits of her. I’m a fan of hers. We’re mutual fans of each other.
How about the Norwegian Cruise Line project?
I created the image that was painted on it, and 450 artists executed it. This experience brought out the little boy in me. You know, the ship holds 5,000 people.
Did you go on the cruise?
Yes, it was great.
You’ve also created posters for the Israeli Day Parade this year. And what about your portraits of Presidents, past and present?
I did 100 portraits of President Clinton. You know I’ve known him a long time. When he was thinking of running for Governor, he called me. I knew he would win. The same thing when he was thinking of running for President. I knew he would win then, too.
What’s your connection with President Obama?
I did 44 portraits of him because he’s the 44th President of the United States.
As far as portraits go, do you have a memorable experience with any of your subjects?
When I was going to school, my friends and I used to sit outside during breaks. One day, Marilyn Monroe walked by and said, “Hi, fellas.” Several years later, I did 15 portraits of her; I was so taken with Marilyn.
With all your works, where will they be exhibited next?
I will be showing my drawings that will be traveling to 100 museums.
You devote yourself to a lot of causes, like the survival of the planet, care of dogs (even though you presently have six cats and no dogs), helping children and the homeless. All these things give you joy, but what gives you the most joy?
One woman: my wife.
That’s an important comment. What about traveling to other places? That’s
I went back to Shanghai, where I used to live, for the first time since I was 12 years old. I am molded from my past. One day I will go
I bet you will. Everything with you is possible. Everything inspires you.
I am inspired by the gift of life.
Every place inspires you, too.
Yes. We are living in the most magical place.
Go to Peter Max’s website to see his images at petermax.com.