In 1976 Peter Max began an annual July 4th tradition: painting the State of Liberty. In 1981, he painted six 8-foot-tall canvases of the Statue on the White House lawn for President and First Lady Reagan to celebrate their first July 4th in the Washington. He then helped initiate the Statue of Liberty renovation with Lee Iacocca, then Chairman of Chrysler Corporation.
He continued painting the Statue every year. He’s also been creating original cover artwork for Dan’s Papers for decades now. “Creating cover art for Dan’s Papers each year has become another wonderful July 4th tradition for me,” Max says.
Does the 4th of July hold a special significance for you?
The 4th of July has always meant something special to me since I arrived in America with my parents at age 16, after growing up in Shanghai, China, and Haifa, Israel. New York City captured my imagination and the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty have inspired my collages and paintings since early on.
America has always been a land of creativity to me, with [its] great ideas, amazing innovations, kind and generous people and big heart. July 4th is a time to celebrate our national spirit and our Independence Day.
Do you remember your first commission?
I had studied realism at the Art Students League of New York, soon after I became fascinated with expressionism and the avant-garde. I painted some new canvases and showed them to the art director at Riverside Records. He loved them and commissioned me to do a painting of blues piano player Meade Lux Lewis for an album cover and it won a gold medal at the Society of Illustrator’s annual exhibition on Park Avenue. I’ll never forget it, and it got me off to a great start.
Where is the most unusual place your work has appeared?
One of my greatest thrills and honors, and a place I would have never imagined, was to have a one-man exhibition at the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad by invitation of Mikhail Gorbachev. It was the largest museum opening of an art exhibition in the history of Russia, drawing 14,500 people on opening day.
My greatest thrill was entering the museum and seeing thousands of young Russians dressed as American hippies, holding up their hands with a peace symbol and chanting “Peace. Peace. Peace.” It brought tears to my eyes.
If you could sit down to coffee with any artist from history, who would it be and what would you talk about?
It would probably be Picasso. He was so ahead of his time and a master of many media. I created a series of etchings based on his Vollard Suites. More than just talk to him, I would have loved to have seen him paint and use his brush. I would love to talk to him about what music he liked and listened to.
Do you have any advice for an aspiring artist?
I think it’s very important to get a strong foundation in art education, studying anatomy, perspective, light and shadow. I learned that you have the freedom to break all the rules after you have learned them. Keep drawing things over and over again, you’ll see things in different ways at different times and it gives your hand good muscle memory and agility. And of course always be curious, taking in our amazing world.
Are you working on any projects currently?
Yes, I’ve partnered with Wrangler again for a limited release clothing collection that’s out now. It’s really fun with my cosmic art, like my first collection with them back in the ‘70s. And I have an exhibition of my early works on now at The Museum at Bethel Woods, at the site of Woodstock. I’m always painting and creating new graphic editions and seeing my friends and fans at my gallery shows.
Learn more about Peter Max at petermax.com.