Skip to main content

Peter Max Biography

"My life's journey has been an odyssey through time and space, filled with vivid moments, abundant with color, dazzling with sights, and vibrant with euphonic sounds. These moments collectively create my story, not only of who I was but also of who I was to become - an artist living in New York City, where I have been fortunate to reach a global audience with my art and philosophy." - Peter Max

Peter Max as an infant being held by his parents in 1937.
1937

Peter Max is born in Berlin Germany.

Photo of Peter at five years old. Its a portrait of his face and he is smiling.
Peter Max as a boy standing next to his parents in China with a carriage next to them.
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.

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

Paris

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.

New York City

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

Art Students League & School of Visual Arts

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. 

Realistic painting of a cowboy by Peter Max

'Cowboy' 1958, Oil on Board, 24 1/5"x14 1/5"


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.

1963

Max creates the 'Bettmann Panopticon' exhibition at SVA's Visual Arts Gallery in New York City, with works by leading art directors and designers created from images of the Bettmann Archive. The exhibition celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Bettmann Archive, the renowned collection of 20th century historical imagery. 

Collage featuring umbrellas, cameras and portraits in a circle.

Bettmann Panopticon Collages, 1963

Circular collage featuring hearts and portraits.
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.

Peter Max waiving to the crowd on the Johnny Carson show.

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.

Peter laying on a floor covered in his vintage posters.
Peter stands and draws a huge profile live on the Ed Sullivan Show.

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

He draws live for a long segment on the show watched by millions. In kinetic motion, he often draws with both hands simultaneously, creating large, mirrored images on the famous set.

1969

Max appears on the cover of Life.

When the story was delayed for a few weeks because of events in Vietnam, Max went on holiday to Barbados with his family and forgot about it. Upon returning to the United States, Max's son, Adam, pointed at a newsstand displaying twenty-four of the Max Life covers and said, "Daddy, look–it's you!" Max promptly bought all twenty-four copies and was amazed to see the story ran eight pages long.

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.
Max at the G.E. factory standing next to his clocks being produced.

General Electric commissions Max to create a line of art clocks.

Over the next few years, Max’s art embellishes seventy-two product lines.

Max drapped in the American flag sitting on some of his posters and GE clocks.
A collection of dining ware featuring Peter Max art.
Peter Max sneakers and the box they are sold in. Each are covered in Peter Max art including stars.
1970

Max’s first solo 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.

Overall view of the DeYoung Museum exhibit.
Posters on the wall at the DeYoung Museum

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.”

Graphic drawing of a profile with flowers and clouds zooming out of her head and floating all around.

'Leaving it Behind' 1971, serigraph, 22x30

'Candidate for Peace' 1972, serigraph, 22x30

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.

Black and white photo of Peter in a white turtle neck shirt with his hands in his pockets.

Peter Max in his New York City studio, 1972

Expressionistic painting of flowers in a vase
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.”

There is such a thing as a creative reservoir within; the more you work, the more you have access to it.
Peter max sitting cross-legged with daughter Libra in his lap

Peter and his daughter Libra, 1971

1976

Max welcomes immigrants to America.

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.

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.

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


Outside of my patriotic works in the ‘70s, I was in seclusion, just painting all of the time.
Peter in white pants and white shirt leaning against a gigantic painting of woman that he created.
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.

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.

Peter standing in front of a gigantic painting of the American Flag that he painted.
Peter leaning his head against his hand surrounded by paintings while a few brushes "float" in the air in front of him.
1986

Statue of Liberty Restoration

Max spearheads a campaign to restore the Statue of Liberty, and enrolls Lee Iacocca, Chairman of the Chrysler Corporation, to become Chairman of the Liberty Renovation project. Funds are raised from Americans of all walks of life for Lady Liberty's renovation. "Peter Max was the spark that lit the torch that ignited the Statue of Liberty renovation," Mr. Iacocca said on the project's completion.

The renovated Statue of Liberty is unveiled at a gala July 4th celebration for the Liberty Centennial on Governors Island and televised nationally 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.

Cover of the June 22nd 1987 issue of People magazine featuring a cosmic drawing by Peter Max which includes himself, the Beatles, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix.
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 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. 

Peter stands in front of his painting of Mick Jagger while holding a paintbrush.

Peter Max with his portrait of Mick Jagger, 1987

The interior of Peter's private studio in NYC that includes a large painted Coke bottle, vintage furniture and a wall of televisions.
1988

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

Peter Max standing on a ladder near the top of a piece of the Berlin Wall. To his right is his signature painted on the wall and a statue of a dove that he carved from it.
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. 

Peter Max standing with Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife in front of the '40 Gorby's' painting installation. Each painting is of Gorbachev's portrait done in a different color style.
1991

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. 

Peter Max standing with President Bill Clinton in front of '100 Clintons' paintings.
1992

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. 

Poster featuring a painting by Max of a soccer player for the World Cup 1994
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. 

Birds eye view of the stage at Woodstock 1999 and the large crowd watching the show.
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. 

Poster featuring the earth, an American flag and the Statue of Liberty made to benefit 9/11 charities.
2001

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

Peter Max and Ringo Starr standing over a painted piano while Peter signs it with a paintbrush.
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. 

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.

Poster for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 30th annual induction ceremony featuring a cosmic profile next to a guitar surrounded by stripes of color and stars.
2015

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. 

Photo of Peter's pallet and a jar of water filled with paint brushes.

"I've always had great mentors in my life: my parents, who nurtured my creativity; my nanny in China, who taught me how to hold and use a brush; the German scientist that I met in the mountains near Tibet, who first inspired my interest in space; Professor Hunick, who taught me to paint with the perception of color; Frank Reilly, my instructor at the Art Students League, who taught me to paint in the discipline of realism; and Swami Satchidanands, the renowned Yoga master, who taught me the art of letting go and being in the flow." - Peter Max