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.
Peter was born in 1937 in Berlin, Germany. In 1948, Peter and his family traveled to the new independent state of Israel in 1948, where Peter studied painting and colorization with a Viennese Fauve Expressionist.
During the 1950’s, Peter has two passions: art and astronomy. Throughout his youth he embraced both as sources of inspiration. He retains them both - bringing cosmic elements into his art. He arrives in New York City and attends the distinguished Art Students League, studying realism painting under the tutelage of Frank Reilly, who studied at the League himself. After the League, Max becomes interested in the avant-garde and attends the progressive School of Visual Arts.
In the 1960’s, Max starts a small Manhattan arts studio with art school friend which wins numerous awards for book cover illustrations and graphic design. 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. 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. During his sixties period, he worked mainly in line, adding colors on the printing press or silk-screen.
Max’s first one-man museum exhibition, “The World of Peter Max,” opened at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco in 1970. It drew tens of thousands of visitors and forty-six additional museum exhibitions were 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.” 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. In 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. “Outside of my patriotic works in the ‘70s, I was in seclusion, just painting all of the time.”
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. 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. In 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.
No other artist has captured the essence of the Summer of Love like Peter Max. Consequently, on the twentieth anniversary of that monumental event in 1987, 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. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Woodstock in 1989, 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.
Max is selected in 1990 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. In 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.
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.
During the 1990’s, Max is named Official Artist for soccer’s World Cup USA and 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. He also creates Earth Day’s twenty- fifth Anniversary poster, one of many that he creates over the years.
In 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. In response to September 11, Max creates six posters commemorating the spirit of America, with proceeds benefiting 9/11 charities.
Books about Peter Max include the 2003 The Art of Peter Max coffee table art book and A decade later, in 2013, The Universe of Peter Max, a colorful, illustrated memoir of the artist’s life.
In 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.
For the Frank Sinatra Centennial in 2015, Max paints Sinatra portraits and unveils them at his NYC studio with Sinatra’s daughter Nancy, granddaughter Amanda, and other celebrity guests. A selection is 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 its 30th annual induction ceremony.