Peter Max Q&A
Peter Max, the artist responsible for the galactic and pastel-filled psychedelic art that became the look of the 1960s in town this weekend to promote a traveling show his art. Since hitting it big in the late '60s, Max has done work for the Grammys, Super Bowls, presidents, and countless other major events. An unparalleled artistic force, Max, who is now in his 70s, refuses to slow down.
City Pages: You've been on the road for a while now interacting with fans and collectors that buy your work. Tell me about that experience.
Peter Max: It's actually amazing for me. I always love coming to a city. Where ever I have a show, there's usually hundreds of people there, sometimes over a thousand, sometimes over two thousand, and then in the middle of the crowd I see some familiar faces and it brightens my heart. I see somebody I haven't seen in two or three years and from all walks of life, people come in. So there's always a handful of people that I knew very well. And it's nice to have a get-together of big Peter Max fans and they love the work and they've followed it.
CP: Is it a little strange having a career resurgence after being so active and popular for so many years?
PM: Yeah, it's amazing. It exploded in 1967, '67, '68. I came out of art school in realism, and I was really good. Only to find out when I got out of school and everybody said, 'Oh, my god, this stuff is really good. But today if we need realism we get photography.' And I heard it once, twice, and by the time I heard it 50 times, I got really scared because I didn't know what to do with my life. I had spent six or seven years with this amazing Irish teacher named Frank J. Reilly. And when Frank was my age he studied under a anatomist, and he studied with Norman Rockwell. And he came out of that lineage.
What happened for me was that I had another passion. I was always very interested in astronomy. Let me just get rid of this call. Bear with me a second. (Puts me on hold.) Somebody called me, they want to do a two-hour PBS show. Nice, right? So, I Started painting stars and planets, and an art director discovered me. I walked out of this guy's office with 12 jobs, he hadn't given me one job in three months (before that). When I delivered them, I had 22 jobs. And I think it was 9 or 12 months later I was on the cover of life magazine with that stuff. It was never intended to be another style. I was just putzing around with another passion of mine.
CP: Recent trends in art largely lean toward a revival of retro styles. Does that excite you? Do you go back and revive your older work?
PM: Sometimes in my world, I go back to previous imagry but with a completely different style of painting it. So it becomes brand new. But I never go back and do it in the old style anymore. I'm always painting bolder, more abstract. There is no joy greater than being involved in pure creativity.
CP: Your art and style have become iconic. But, that also means they are often imitated. Do you ever feel like other artists have ripped you off or made a living off of your ideas?
PM:You know, it happens. I don't have any bad feelings about it. I guess their a fans, and then they get into their own thing. If somebody does a rip off where they copy directly something and they put it on a product, then we send them a letter. But if they're inspired by it, then I'm ok with it. I'm really ok with it.
CP: You grew up around the globe, living in several countries before coming to America. How do you think that multicultural upbringing influenced your art?
PM: It was fantastic. I was born in Berlin, my father and his three buddies opened a department store in Shanghai. My mother used to a big flair for fashion. Every time she would go out with her friends, that's all they would talk about—fashion, color. 'Look at that hat. Look at that bag, that scarf. Don't you like that? Isn't that too busy?' I heard that stuff all the time from my mother. I used to love to listen and see if I knew what they were talking about. After a while I got it, and it was indirectly an amazing art education.
CP: You've been given a lot of honors as artist. You've painted dignitaries, presidents, stamps, etc. Was there one major project from your career that especially stands out to now as your career peak or the most significant?
PM: There was one project. I was into ecology way before anybody was because I brought a Swami to America. It was a bold thing to do, I was married with two kids, and I brought this guy almost twice my age to live with us. Back then, the yoga industry in the whole US was probably under $1 million. Today it's $27 million, and that's 80 percent physical yoga. But real yoga is meditating and finding inner peace. The people who came around were all intellectuals, people like Alan Ginsberg and Timothy Leary. And so I learned so much about inner peace. There's a great line in yoga: Love all, serve all. Isn't that great? It's not just to love human beings, of course that's most important. But you even love a blade of grass, you love a tree, you don't just go pick flowers. We're living in an age now when people are starting to consider those ideas. About nine years ago, as I walked across grass, I heard the crackling of the broken necks of grass. And I thought, I just probably broke 50 blades of grass. And from that day on I've never walked on grass again. And it’s certainly nice for the grass that I don't do that, but it helped me a lot. What that did to my mind, that I was even able to consider that notion, was very self-educating.
CP: You've done the covers of major magazines, you've created art using the Berlin Wall, you've turned jumbo jets into your canvas. Are you ever going to retire? Is there any thing else for you to accomplish?
PM: To retire would be to give up my joy. I'm like Gene Kelly on the dance floor. I just love it. I can't think of doing anything but being creative. The beautiful thing about all this is the creativity brings me to all walks of life. I wouldn't even know what else to do. What would I do if I were retired?
See Max's art at Roadshow Gallery in Gaviidae Common (5th St. And Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis), through Saturday. Max will be at the gallery to meet collectors and fans. 5- 8 p.m. Fri Sept 26 and noon- 3 p.m. Sat Sept 27. Call 612.333.2461 to RSVP.