A pop culture icon who revolutionized the concept of modern art in the U.S., Peter Max is a graphic artist known for his psychedelic style of painting and use of bright, vibrant colours. Regarded as one of the most popular among all living American artists, he played a significant role in shaping the way contemporary America views art. As a child, he traveled all around the world with his family and was exposed to various exotic locations in Tibet, Africa, and Europe before finally settling in the U.S. He began his artistic career in the 1960s by opening a small arts studio with his friend. He developed a unique style of art combining antique photographic images, bold colours, and collages. His studio became very popular among business houses and his art was soon appearing on posters and walls of the colleges in the U.S. He incorporated into his paintings elements of astronomy—a science he had a deep love for—and ushered in the ‘Cosmic 60s’ period which was characterized by psychedelic, counter culture imagery. He became very famous for his unique symbolism and expressionism and his art works appeared on several television commercials which made him a national icon. He is a vegetarian and a strong supporter of human and animal rights, and has dedicated several of his paintings to these causes.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born in Berlin, Germany to Salla, a fashion designer and her husband. The family moved to Shanghai, China in 1938 to escape Nazism in their home country. They remained in China for ten years during which the young Peter was exposed to the rich art and traditions of the Chinese which greatly influenced him during his career as an artist.
Over the next few years the family traveled and stayed at various exotic locations all over the world including Israel, Tibet, Africa, and Europe before finally settling in the U.S.
While at Paris where the family stayed for several months he took classes at the Louvre Museum. When he was in Israel, he studied with the Austrian expressionist, Professor Honik who introduced him to the paintings of artists like Henri Matisse, Max Beckmann and Maurice Vlaminck. He also had an early interest in astronomy and attended evening astronomy classes at the Technion Institute.
His family settled at Brooklyn in 1953 and Peter attended Lafayette High School in New York City.
He began his formal art training at the Art Students League of New York in 1956 under Frank Reilly, a realistic painter. He studied anatomy, figure drawing and composition. Max worked relentlessly with oil paint, watercolors, pastels, and charcoal.
He spent his spare time at museums studying the techniques of great artists. He observed and learnt various nuances of art from the paintings of Rembrandt, Valesquez, and Sargent.
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He started a small arts studio called ‘The Daly & Max Studio’ with his friend Tom Daly in 1962. His works caught the eye of an Art Director for a record company who asked him to do a painting for a record album cover for the blues piano player, Meade Lux Lewis. The cover won several awards and accolades and helped him progress his career.
From 1964 to 1967 he worked extensively on collages—a concept that was being popularized by the counterculture of the 1960s. He developed a unique technique of collage making using antique photographs in kaleidoscopic patterns.
During this time, the print media industry was also expanding and this meant the wonderful opportunity to convert his original art work into posters and make his work known all over the country. His posters marked by vivid colours and bold strokes were soon a rage among the youth and could be found in college campuses all over the U.S.
An exhibition ‘The World of Peter Max’ was held in 1970 in which many of his posters and paintings were featured. The exhibition opened at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco.
He was invited by President Reagan to paint six Liberty portraits at the White House in 1981. He has also painted for five U.S. Presidents: Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton.
He served as the official artist for several international games and events including New Orleans Jazz Festival, Woodstock in 1994 and Super Bowl and Grammy Awards in 1995.
Peter Max is one of the most popular living artists who has held more than 40 international museum exhibitions and more than 50 gallery shows worldwide. He is credited to have revolutionized the art of the 1960s with his ‘Cosmic 60s’ style and deeply influenced the American counterculture.
Awards & Achievements
He was honoured by The Black Alumni of Pratt (BAP) with the prestigious Pinnacle Alumni in Art and Design Award in 2010 for his contributions to the art world and for his considerable humanitarian work.
Personal Life & Legacy
He is married to Mary Max. He is a vegetarian and a strong supporter of human and animal rights. He often dedicates his art work to these causes and has donated art work worth $180,000 to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The art of this great modern artist is featured on one of Continental Airlines' Boeing 777-200ER aircraft.