It’s not inconceivable that a book about America’s best-known contemporary pop art and graphic artist would be called The Multiverse of Peter Max because it would testify to the ever-expanding creative career already celebrated in The Art of Peter Max (2002) and The Universe of Peter Max (2013). Astronomy references are appropriate for this artistic, cultural and counter-cultural icon whose bold, glowing psychedelic signature style typically involves surrounding his vibrant portraits and full-figure contour forms with stars, planets and other heavenly matter to constitute a radiant “cosmos,” which Max calls “a mysterious and magical realm.”
“Cosmos” comes from the Greek, meaning “order,” and order indeed describes Max’s sure minimalist lines and fantastic interlocking-shape designs, honed years ago at The Art Students League and later at The School of Visual Arts. His achievements are stellar—myriad Maxworks in diverse genres, realistic and abstract, many mixed-media, including sculpture, silkscreen, drawing, etching, collage, print making, digital photography—thousands of posters, album and book covers and commercial products featuring all manner of celebrities, pols and athletes. Max also continues to be the official artist for Super Bowls, World Series, subway series, music festivals, World Cups, cruise ships, parades, bicentennials, expos, the Grammys, not to mention being a passionate spokesman for the environment, peace, and human and animal rights.
[This week’s cover art, “Lady Liberty 2015,” may well evoke song because she stands if not against amber waves of grain or purple mountain majesties, then purple waves that curl into white clouds and fan out to spacious skies.]
You’re so prolific that some divide your work into decades, starting with the hip, beatific ’60s. What’s coming along now, in addition to your Sinatra 100th Birthday Celebration paintings, called Chairman of the Board?
I started working on the Sinatra paintings a few months ago, and I’m doing a new batch and think I’m going to make it to 100. [Close to 50 Sinatra pieces were unveiled at Max’s studio in the city this past March, with Sinatra’s daughter Nancy in attendance.]
What else will I be doing? I never know exactly what will come out, I surprise myself. I start with a white canvas and just fool around. About 95% of the pieces I do are imaginary stuff, but the rest are people I like. I can do two pieces a day or 12 or sixteen. The possibilities are endless. I work in acrylic and oil, whatever comes to me, but I mostly do acrylic.
You’ve done many images of the Statue of Liberty, the lady you helped get restored in the mid-’80s, but is there something specific that distinguishes “Lady Liberty 2015” with her 13 white stars?
I don’t think so. I love the subject and I love diversity. I’m not really conscious how each one will turn out, though they are all different.
Your work has been aligned to the “creative odyssey” of your personal life—birth in Berlin, childhood in Shanghai, stays in Paris, Tibet and Israel, and finally home in Brooklyn. What attracted you to the East End?
I first came out to the area years ago, as a student, with friends, painting, drawing. It’s a beautiful area and I love it. I know all the Hamptons.
“Sinatra, an American Icon” is on view at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center through September 4, then moving to the Grammy Museum of Los Angeles. Photos from the show now on view at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven, CT.
Other work by Max can be seen in the Metropolitan area at the Wentworth Gallery in Short Hills, NJ and Ocean Gallery in Stone Harbor, NJ.
For more, see Petermax.com.