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6 Facts About Peter Max, the Master of Rainbow-Hued Psychedelic Pop Art


6 Facts About Peter Max, the Master of Rainbow-Hued Psychedelic Pop Art

 

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German-born, New York-based artist Peter Max is known for his vibrant, psychedelic paintings and prints. His career began during the early 1960s when he worked as a graphic designer and produced art for high-profile ad campaigns and band posters.

Since then, he’s gone on to work on a number of projects using a wide variety of mediums. His work is influenced by the bold, contrasting colors of the Fauvism movement, yet his motifs are directly influenced by pop culture. Max has painted portraits of American icons such as The Beatles, as well as former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The artist’s personal interest in astronomy has also influenced his work throughout his career. His colorful works often feature cosmic characters and otherworldly scenes.

“I’m just wowed by the universe,” says the artist. “I’m just glad to do something I love to do. I love color, I love painting, I love shapes, I love composition, I love the people around me.” Max adds, “I’m adoring it all.”

Read on to discover six fascinating facts about this prolific artist.

Discover six fascinating facts about German-American artist Peter Max.

 

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He’s lived all over the world.

 

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When Max was just 1 year old, his family fled Berlin in 1938 to avoid Nazi persecution. They then lived in Shanghai, near a Buddhist monastery, until the artist was ten. Max and his family continued to travel across China and even spent time in Tibet. When Mao Tse-Tung’s army advanced on Shanghai, the family fled to Haifa, Israel. They stayed there for a few years and then spent several months in Paris.

It was in France where Max began showing an interest in art, and he took art classes at the Louvre Museum. In 1953, Max and his family moved to the United States and settled in Bensonhurst, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Max began his first formal art training at the Art Students League of New York in 1956. He then went on to study at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

 

His life-long synesthesia experiences inspire his art.

 

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Max has synesthesia, meaning he experiences the senses differently from most people. For the artist, color is associated with sound. He claims to “hear” colors and “see” music, and these intense experiences influenced his artwork throughout his career. Max directly expresses his love of music (especially jazz) through his paintings.

 

He’s an advocate for animal rights.

 

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Max is an environmentalist, vegan, and advocate of human and animal rights. In 2002, the artist contributed to the rescue efforts of a cow that escaped from an Ohio slaughterhouse. The cow—called Cincinnati Freedom, or Cindy Woo—jumped over a six-foot-fence while the staff were on a break, and was on the run for eleven days. Max donated $180,000 worth of his art to benefit the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. His contribution helped permanently re-home the cow in Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York, where she happily remained for the rest of her life. In 2009, Max and his wife, Mary, received the Preserve Putnam Award in recognition of their dedication to animal rights.

 

He owned 36 vintage Corvettes.

 

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In 1989, the cable network VH1 gave away 36 vintage Corvettes in a TV contest—one from each production year between 1953 and 1989. The contest was won by Dennis Amadeo, a carpenter from Long Island who entered only once. He sold the cars to Peter Max, who planned to paint them in psychedelic patterns and debut them at an event.

Max never followed through on the project, and the cars languished inside a New York parking lot, gathering dust for over 20 years. In 2014, Max eventually sold the collection to the Heller and Spindler families, who recently organized a new sweepstake to give the cars away. However, instead of having one winner, they distributed one car each to 36 winners. Before giving them away, the families enlisted Corvette collector Chris Mazzilli to restore the cars and bring them back to life. Find out more about the competition here.

 

Max helped save the Statue of Liberty.

 

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On July 4th, 1976, Max began his annual Independence Day tradition of painting a large portrait of the Statue of Liberty—a custom that he continues to this day. In 1981, he was even commissioned by the White House to create six, eight-foot-tall Lady Liberty canvases.

Today, the Statue of Liberty—which is based on the Roman goddess Libertas—is a symbol of freedom and optimism. However, in the early 1980s, the statue barely resembled a goddess. The crumbling, cracked statue was in desperate need of restoration. Max contacted Lee Iococca, the then-CEO of Chrysler Corporation, who, inspired by Max’s art, led the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Centennial Commission. After $350 million in donations and four years of work, the renovated statue was revealed on “Liberty Weekend,” July 3–6, 1986.

To celebrate, Max created 11 new Statue of Liberty paintings. “As the statue was unveiled, fireworks exploded in the sky,” the artist recalls. “The bold flashes of color inspired me to paint the portraits in a whole new color palette, akin to the Fauvist techniques of my earlier studies. The next day, when reading the media’s coverage of the event, I was so pleased when a reporter recognized the source of my inspiration and labeled my new paintings ‘Neo Fauve.’”

 

He painted Taylor Swift several times.

 

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On March 4, 2010, Taylor Swift performed in Tampa, Florida, as part of her Fearless Tour. Max was also in the area since he had an exhibition in Tampa. He offered to paint a portrait of Swift, based on her Fearless album cover and presented it to her backstage during her show. The pop star adored the painting, and Max would later go on to paint Swift several more times, including works based on her first four album covers.

Swift has been a fan of Max’s artwork since childhood. She recalls, “When I was growing up, my family spent our summers in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, and I remember there was this art gallery on 96th Street. I used to walk past it and stop in my tracks whenever there was a Peter Max painting on display.” The pop star adds, “I think I was 8 or 9 the first time I saw one of his paintings,” she added. “His art is like another world to me, and I can’t even explain how much it means to me that he did my portrait.”

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