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Carol Ruth Weber interviews Peter Max: Getting to know the humble man behind his iconic art
Get to know Peter Max, the man and artist, and what has kept his work so outstanding and relevant.
I feel so fortunate to of had the opportunity to get to know the man behind the work that impacted my life. Peter Max has taken viewers out of this atmosphere and into a colorful cosmic world filled with color and love through decades of war and peace. Peter Max has transcended political party lines getting to know, and proudly painting for, six United States Presidents including painting six renditions of the Statue of Liberty at the White House for President and Mrs. Reagan and painting 100 portraits of President Clinton spanning 20 feet wide by 5 feet high.
Living in Shanghai, China as a child is where Peter began to develop his artistic abilities and his true love of art.
What age do you remember first beginning to create art?
Peter responded "at two years old; my father would draw with me in Shanghai". His mother recognized her son's artistic talent and looked for someone to teach him to grow his abilities. She found an artist on the street who sent his daughter, Umba, over to begin teaching Peter when he was only three years of age, becoming his beloved nanny as well.
Who first inspired you as a young artist?
Even after studying great artists such as Van Gogh, his father and nanny Umba were Peter Max's immediate answers. When he left Shanghai at age of ten Peter remembers crying as he left his art teacher nanny Umba and his beloved kitty behind.
Peter shared with me how he made his first friend as a boy in New York.
The family moved to Israel and Paris before making their final move to New York in the 1950's. Peter Max was in a new world as a young teenager. He told me that he met his first friend in the school locker room after hearing a startling musical note being sung. The operatic voice belonged to Paul Sorvino who he is still close friends with.
When did you first feel that you where publicly recognized as an artist?"
Peter Max discussed with me how he appeared on a couple of TV shows. The first time he sat with Johnny Carson he was on air for 25 min and went on to being a guest on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show three more times. He also appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. Ed Sullivan followed that show by devoting an entire show to Peter Max.
Just coming out of art school Peter explained how his style was very apropos for the 60's. Peter Max told me that the most defining moment for him realizing that he was a well known artist came at age 24 or 25 when he was walking through New York City with his three year old son, Adam. Adam viewed the four Peter Max Life magazine covers at a news stand and shouted to his father "Isn't that you?" Peter bought all four copies from the news stand. When the salesman handed Peter the issues he recognized the cover photo belonging to his customer and pulled out two more copies of the magazine asking Peter to sign, which he proudly did.
How does this make you feel that you are used to define the word psychedelic?
In his humble answer Peter made the simple statement that it was "just a period". He does not view himself as a psychedelic person but as a Yogi. Although most link the Beatles with bringing awareness of yoga to the public it was Peter Max who actually brought yoga into the mainstream in the United States. Peter conveyed to me that following studying yoga with Swami Satchidananda Peter brought him to America. After opening yoga centers Peter received a phone call from George Harrison with Ringo proudly telling him that they also had their own Swami Maharishi Mahesh in England.
What was your actual personal involvement with the Beatles and did you work on 'Yellow Submarine?
Being close friends with the Beatles he was called upon by them to work on the movie. In order to do the job Peter would of had to spend six months to a year in Europe and could not commit the time. Instead Peter Max offered his advice and consultation for the artwork and then, although he had never personally met him, recommended the German artist, Heinz Edelmann, well known for copying Max's style of work. Peter told me that when he did finally meet Edelmann, Heinz handed Peter his business card that read "Heinz Edelmann, the German Peter Max". Peter Max asked of Heinz Edelmann one favor, "to take my name off of your card".
How do you see yourself and define who you are?
Peter Max answered me that he loves the title of hippy because it means to him someone who is "thinking cosmic and futuristic". As a Yogi Peter Max's true feelings about his life is a line stated in yoga, "Love all and serve all".
How did it come about that you worked with Lee Iacocca of Chrysler to save the Statue of Liberty?
In 1976 Peter Max began painting the Liberties in celebration of the country's bicentennial. He went on to celebrate the Statue by painting Liberties in the years following. In 1981 he was invited to paint six Liberties at the White House for President Reagan and his wife Nancy. Upon returning to New York a friend came to him deeply concerned about the destruction of the Statue of Liberty due to its dire need of renovation. Seeing an ad with Lee Iacocca and Chrysler brought to mind a friend of Peter's who had the ability to contact Lee. Soon Peter Max and Lee Iacocca worked in harmony to raise the tremendous amount of funds needed to renovate the beautiful statue. Peter Max stated to me how he appreciates America as being the most artistic nation because of its diversity.
How old do you actually feel and what keeps your work relevant?"
Although a bit past 70 years young Peter admits to feeling more like he is in his late 30's to early 40's, and even sometimes still in his 20's. Peter Max credits his love for creativity in keeping him young stating that "Creativity and I am one! Just as a person may be born with blue eyes a person is also born with creativity already a part of them". Being a Yogi keeps him focused and humble. Being a total vegan helps him to look and feel young and energetic.
Do you have a favorite piece that you have created?
Just as a proud parent Peter lovingly told me that all of his works are his favorite and they all make a statement. The one that has become his most popular work is "Love", an image with the word Love floating on a colorful ombre background coupled with a profile of a girl.
When I asked him how many pieces of art has he created, Peter joyfully answered "More than 4 pieces of art." He continues to paint every day, staying creative 24 hours a day. Peter speaks like the proud father he is of his son and daughter. His voice sparkles when explaining how he met his incredible wife 15 years ago and knew from the first moment that he saw her that he was going to marry her.
All should follow the lead of Peter Max and never be afraid to dance!
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Page Updated Last on: Oct 26, 2013