Peter Max Biography

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most famous living artists, Peter Max is a pop culture icon. His bold colors, uplifting images and an uncommon artistic diversity have touched almost every phase of American culture and has inspired many generations. 

 

1937 Peter is born in Berlin, Germany.

 

 

1938 Peter and his parents, Salla and Jacob, travel to Shanghai, China-a rich, living tapestry of ancient Asian culture, Europeans, and imported American media of comic books, jazz radio, and Hollywood movies.

 

1948 Peter and his family travel to the new independent state of Israel, where Peter studies painting and colorization with a Viennese Fauve Expressionist.

 

1951 Peter’s fascination with the cosmos is stimulated when he discovers the wonders of astronomy. He now has two passions: art and astronomy. Throughout his youth he embraces both as sources of inspiration. He retains them both- bringing cosmic elements into his art.

 

1953 En route to America, the family stops in Paris for 6 months, and Peter’s mother sends him to take sketch classes at the Louvre.

 

Peter Max arrives in New York City and marvels at the colossal-sized automobiles, the billboards of Broadway, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

 

1956 Max attends the distinguished Art Students League and studies realism painting under the tutelage of Frank Reilly, who studied at the League himself, beside Norman Rockwell. After the League, Max becomes interested in the avant-garde and attends the progressive School of Visual Arts.

 

1962 With art school friend, Tom Daly, Max starts a small Manhattan arts studio, which wins numerous awards for book cover illustrations and graphic design.

 

Max combines his realism and abstraction skills in a painting of blues pianist Meade Lux Lewis, for a Riverside Records album cover. It wins a gold Medal at the Society of Illustrators annual exhibition.

 

Max creates posters and a catalogue for “Bettmann Panopticon”-an exhibition of New York’s most creative visual artists, utilizing the photo collection of the Bettmann Archives.

 

 

General Electric commissions Max to create a line of art clocks, and over the next few years, Max’s art embellishes seventy-two product lines.

  

1966 Max travels to Paris to consult on a film and meets Swami Satchidananda, a Yoga master, whose dynamic spiritual presence affects him profoundly. Max invites him to visit New York, and helps him to found the Integral Yoga Institute. “The Swami and yoga taught me a whole new way to draw,” says Max. “It empowered me to feel the cosmic consciousness within, and to allow that to flow out of me into my art.”

 

1967 Max’s Be In poster inspires several hundred thousand “hippies” to gather in New York City’s Central Park, and immortalize the Summer of Love.

 

Max becomes a pop culture icon and appears on major TV shows, including The NBC Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, where the set design features his poster art.

 

MAX’S ART CAPTURED THE SPIRIT OF THE SIXTIES AND WAS CITED BY ART CRITICS AS “THE VISUAL ARTS COUNTERPART TO THE MUSIC OF THE BEATLES.”

 

Max’s passion for inner and outer space fuse and give rise to his famous “Cosmic ‘60s” poster collection, which were seen everywhere from college dorms to corporate board rooms and recording studios.

 

Following the Beatles, Max appears on the ultimate TV showcase- The Ed Sullivan Show.

 

1969 Max appears on the cover of Life. “In Shanghai, I saw Life covers with five-star generals, and baseball and movie stars. I could never imagine that one day it would be me,” marvels Max.

 

1970 Max’s first one-man museum exhibition, “The World of Peter Max,” opens at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. It draws tens of thousands of visitors and as a result of its success, forty-six additional museum exhibitions are scheduled around the United States mounted by the Smithsonian Institute Exhibition Services.

  

Max’s magazine covers were ubiquitous, and in 1970 his art even adorned the cover of the New York City Yellow Pages (again in 1973 and 2001). Millions of telephone books were distributed in the New York metropolitan area, and Max could hardly walk down a street in Manhattan where someone wouldn’t recognize him and say, “Hey Max, I got your yellow pages.”

 

1971 Max withdraws from the public eye and takes a creative retreat to explore new directions in painting. During his sixties period, he worked mainly in line, adding colors on the printing press or silk-screen.

 

In his Realism period he worked in oils with small brushes. Now, he paints with acrylics and large brushes, even house-painting brushes, expressing himself with spontaneous, expressionistic brushstrokes.

 

Many of Max’s famous icons emerged during the 1970s: Umbrella Man, Sage with Cane, Dega Man and Zero Megalopolis.

 

“There is such a thing as a creative reservoir within; the more you work, the more you have access to it.” - Peter Max

 

1974 The First Environmental U.S. Postage Stamp.

As Max’s poster art is associated with the spirit of ecology, the U.S. Postal Service commissions the artist to create the first ten-cent postage stamp commemorating Expo ’74 World’s Fair in Spokane, Washington. Max uses the line, “Preserve the Environment.”

 

1976 U.S. General Services asks Max to create 235 “Welcome to America” border murals, displayed at entry points between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico. The murals are seen by more than 260 million people a year and President Jimmy Carter holds simultaneous celebrations in each of the U.S. border towns at the unveiling. Soon after, Max and his family are welcomed to a White House celebration with the President and First Lady, Rosalynn Carter.

 

“Outside of my patriotic works in the ‘70s, I was in seclusion, just painting all of the time.” -Peter Max

 

Peter Max Paints America is published. With the artist in attendance, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden presents Max’s book of paintings and collages to commemorate the United States’ Bicentennial Celebration at the White House to President Jerry Ford on behalf of his country to the United States.

 

When Max returns to NYC that evening from the White house celebration, he is inspired to paint the Statue of Liberty and sets into play an annual July 4th Statue of Liberty painting tradition. “I wanted to honor this amazing democracy that the Statue of Liberty symbolizes,” Max says. He has continued his Liberty painting tradition to this day.

 

1981 President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan invite Max to the White House for Reagan’s first Fourth of July celebration as president. Max paints six eight-foot tall Statue of Liberty paintings at the White House Rose Garden for the President, First Lady Nancy Reagan, and assembled guests and dignitaries. On completion of the sixth Liberty painting, Max invites President Reagan to the painting stage and offers him a brush, asking him to honor him with the final brushstroke- much to the President’s delight.

 

Max spearheads a campaign to restore the Statue of Liberty and enrolls Lee Iacocca, Chairman of Chrysler Corporation, to become Chairman of the Liberty Renovation project. “Peter Max was the spark that lit the torch that ignited the Statue of Liberty renovation.” Mr. Iacocca said, on the project’s completion.

 

 

1985 Backstage at the Live-Aid Concert in Philadelphia, Max is so moved by the musicians’ charitable generosity that he draws a picture of an angel embracing the planet to capture the moment. He calls it “I Love the World.”

 

1986 The renovated Statue of Liberty is unveiled at a gala July 4th celebration on Governors Island with Peter Max as guest of honor. Inspired by the colors of the fireworks reflected on the statue’s face, Max paints eleven Liberty heads, continuing the tradition he began in 1976. One of the paintings, graces the July 4th U.S. News & World Report cover.

 

1987 No other artist has captured the essence of the Summer of Love like Peter Max. Consequently, on the twentieth anniversary of that monumental event, People magazine called on him to create a fold out cover for their commemorative June 22 issue. Interwoven in Max’s cosmic collage are ‘60s icons: the Beatles, Jerry Garcia, Allen Ginsberg, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Timothy Leary.

 

1988 Max emerges from his secluded painting retreat and opens an expansive 40,000- square-foot studio/atelier adjacent to Lincoln Center in Manhattan.

 

1989 To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Woodstock, Max creates the world’s largest rock and roll stage for the Moscow Music and Peace Festival- a landmark rock-music event promoting world peace and international cooperation between the U.S. and Russia. “It was a thrill to join Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osborne, and other heavy metal bands and rock with hundreds of thousands of young Russians,” says Max.

 

The Recording Academy invites Max to be the official artist of the GRAMMYS® and he creates his first of five GRAMMY® posters.

 

1990 Max is selected to receive a seven-thousand-pound section of the fallen Berlin Wall on board the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, on the Hudson River, NYC. Using hammer and chisel, he carves out the shape of a peace dove from the concrete wall, paints it and places it on top, symbolically giving it freedom.

 

1991 Peter Max at The Hermitage

A delegation of Russian officials, on behalf of Mikhail Gorbachev, invites Max to have a retrospective exhibition to tour Moscow and St. Petersburg. It opens at the Central Exhibition Hall of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). It is the largest museum art exhibition opening in Russian history, drawing a crowd of 14,500 people on its opening day. A subsequent exhibition at the Moscow Museum of Fine Art draws an opening crowd of more than 10,000 people.

 

So touched by perestroika, Mikhail Gorbachev’s economic and government reform policy in the Soviet Union, Max creates a forty-portrait installation of the Soviet Premier, entitled “40 Gorbys.”

 

1992 President George H.W. Bush asks Max to create art for his 1000 Points of Light Program, a volunteer initiative. Soon after, Max is contacted by the U.S. pavilion committee for the World’s Fair in Seville, Spain, requesting a mural for the pavilion. Max creates a giant 250-foot-long by fifty-foot high vinyl billboard of his art. “I made it my canvas,” Max says.

 

The Clinton inauguration committee asks Max to create a commemorative poster for Bill Clinton’s 1993 Presidential Inauguration. Max is so inspired that he creates three posters and a one-hundred portrait installation,“100 Clintons,” which is unveiled on the Larry King CNN Presidential Special.

 

The Freunde der Stattlichen Kunsthallen of Berlin, Germany, organizes a major museum retrospective of Max’s work presented in their new pavilion, adorned with an 850-foot mural, that houses 300 of Max’s works spanning three decades.

 

 

1994 Max is named Official Artist for soccer’s World Cup USA and his colorful poster is seen on TV by more than 2 billion people.

 

1995 Max creates Earth Day’s twenty- fifth Anniversary poster, one of many that he creates over the years.

 

The NFL designates Max as first Official Artist in Super Bowl history, a position he holds for five years. Max is also Official Artist of the NYC Marathon, Kentucky Derby, NHL’s All Star Weekend, U.S. Open, and the World Series. Max also paints Dale Earnhardt’s NASCAR Millennium car.

 

1999 Woodstock producer Michael Lang, asks Max to create the world’s largest stage set for the 1999 Woodstock Music and Peace Festival. Previously, Lang commissioned Max to create posters and open the 1994 concert, in front of 400,000 people.

 

2000 Continental Airlines unveils Max’s painted fuselage of its new Boeing 777 super jet. Max’s plane is also designated as NYC’s Millennium Plane by NYC mayor, Rudy Giuliani.

 

2001 In response to September 11, Max creates six posters commemorating the spirit of America, with proceeds benefiting 9/11 charities.

 

2003 The Art of Peter Max coffee table art book is published by Abrams. A decade later, in 2013, The Universe of Peter Max, a colorful, illustrated memoir of the artist’s life, is published by Harper Design.

 

2005 Max paints Ringo Starr’s Baldwin piano to benefit the former Beatle’s charitable efforts for MusicCares, benefitting musicians in need of medical care.

 

2009 Max presents his “44 Obamas” installation to commemorate President Obama’s Inauguration as the 44th U.S. President on CBS’s The Early Show.

 

2010 In 2010 and 2013, Max paints portraits of Taylor Swift’s cover art from her first four hit albums. In 2013, he also paints portraits of Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe, using the archives of the great fashion photographer Milton Greene. 

 

2013 Norwegian Cruise Lines commissions Max to paint the hull of its Breakaway ship, the largest cruise ship to make New York City its home port. It’s the first time Norwegian has a well-known artist paint hull artwork for one of its ships.

 

2015 For the Frank Sinatra Centennial, Max paints Sinatra portraits and unveils them at his NYC studio with Sinatra’s daughter Nancy, grand daughter Amanda, and other celebrity guests. A selection are shown at the GRAMMY Museum® exhibition, “Sinatra: An American Icon,” at Lincoln Center’s New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum asks Peter to create posters and program cover art for it’s 30th annual induction ceremony.

 

NBC commissions Max to create portraits of the four coaches of The Voice, America’s highly-viewed, reality singing competition. His portraits of Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, and Pharrell Williams are featured in print and transit ads, billboards, and on The Voice’s iTunes, Facebook and Twitter pages.