Peter Max is a German-born American illustrator and graphic artist, known for the use of psychedelic shapes and color palettes as well as spectra in his work. At first, works in this style appeared on posters and were seen on the walls of college dorms all across America. Max then became fascinated with new printing techniques that allowed for four-color reproduction on product merchandise. Following his success with a line of art clocks for General Electric, Max's art was licensed by 72 corporations and he had become a household name. In September 1969, Max appeared on the cover of Life magazine with an eight-page feature article as well as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Ed Sullivan Show.
In 1938, Peter Max's parents fled Berlin, Germany, his place of birth, to escape the fomenting Nazi movement, settling in Shanghai, China, where they lived for the next ten years. In 1948, the family moved to Haifa, Israel where they lived for several years. From Israel, the family continued moving westward and stopped in Paris for several months—an experience that greatly enriched Peter's appreciation for art, which included him taking classes at the Louvre Museum.
Peter and his parents first settled in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn in 1953 where he attended Lafayette High School (New York City). In 1956, Max began his formal art training at the Art Students League of New York in Manhattan, studying anatomy, figure drawing and composition under Frank J. Reilly who himself had studied at the League alongside Norman Rockwell.
In 1962 Max started a small Manhattan arts studio known as "The Daly & Max Studio", with friend Tom Daly. Daly and Max were joined by friend and mentor Don Rubbo, and the three worked as a group on books and advertising for which they received industry recognition. Much of their work incorporated antique photographic images as elements of collage. Max's interest in astronomy contributed to his self described "Cosmic '60s" period which featured what became identified as psychedelic, counter culture imagery. Max's art was popularized nationally through TV commercials such as his 1968 "un cola" ad for the soft drink 7-UP which helped drive sales of his very profitable art posters and other merchandise. He appeared on the The Tonight Show on August 15, 1968. He was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine's 9-5-1969 edition under with the heading "Peter Max: Portrait of the artist as a very rich man."
In 1970, many of Max's products and posters were featured in the exhibition "The World of Peter Max" which opened at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. The US Postal Service commissioned Max to create the first 10¢ postage stamp to commemorate the Expo '74 World's Fair in Spokane, Washington. July 4, 1976, Max began his Statue of Liberty series leading to his efforts with Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca to help spearhead the restoration of the statue.
1976 also saw the commissioning of Peter Max Paints America by the ASEA of Sweden. The book project commemorated America's bicentennial and included the following foreword. "Peter Max Paints America is based on works of art commissioned by ASEA of Sweden on the 200th anniversary of the founding of the United States of America, in sincere recognition of the historic bonds of friendship between the people of Sweden and the people of the United States, recalling that Sweden was one of the first countries to extend its hand in friendship to the new nation."
The 1980s to present
Max has been the official artist for many major events, including the 1994 World Cup, the Grammy Awards, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Super Bowl and others. In 2000, Max designed the paint scheme Dale Earnhardt drove at the Winston all-star race, strikingly deviating from Earnhardt's trademark black car. Earlier in 2000 Peter designed the official Leap Year 2000, World Wide Leap year Festival in Anthony, Texas/New Mexico The Leap Year Capital of the World as a birthday present to his Leap Day Baby friend, Susan Nash, wife of singer Graham Nash. The Nash family attended the event, participated in most of the events connected to the festivities and Graham performed a very personal concert at the World Wide Leap Day Birthday Party, before a very appreciative and deeply touched audience of Leaplings from around the world and over 1000 local fans.
Max first painted Taylor Swift’s portrait as a gift to Taylor for her Grammy-winning album Fearless & Speak Now, and has recently painted new portraits of Taylor Swift to commemorate her worldwide success.
Max is on the Board of Selectors of Jefferson Awards for Public Service.
Max's art work was first identified as having been a popular part of the counter culture and psychedelic movements in graphic design during the late 1960s and early 1970s. He is known for using intense bursts of color, often containing much or all of the visible spectrum. His work was both influenced by, as well as widely imitated by, others in the field of commercial illustration, such as Heinz Edelmann. Peter Max' repeated claims, varying in detail, to have worked on "Yellow Submarine" has been denied by the production team.
Max works in multiple media including painting, drawing, etchings (including aquatint), collage, print making, sculpture, video and digital imagery. He also includes "mass media" as being another "canvas" for his creative expression. Max often uses patriotic American icons and symbols in his artwork. He has created paintings of presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush in addition to his 100 Clintons,—a multiple portrait installation. His work often features images of celebrities, politicians, athletes and sporting events and other pop culture subjects.
One of Continental Airlines' Boeing 777-200ER aircraft (registered N77014) sported a special livery designed by Max.
His artwork was featured on CBS's The Early Show where his "44 Obamas," commemorating the 44th President of The United States, was debuted.
Peter Max is an environmentalist, vegetarian and defender of human and animal rights.
Peter Max was in the news in 2002 when he offered to provide a life of green fields for Cinci Freedom, a cow that escaped from an Ohio slaughterhouse. The cow leapt over a six-foot fence while the slaughterhouse workers were on break and eluded capture for eleven days. "This little girl's will—facing the end of her life, being so frightened, then taking the risk of all risks to live, to be free—touched me so deeply," Max was quoted as saying, "It was so inspiring. I knew I had to try to preserve that wonderful spirit." Max donated $180,000 worth of his art to benefit the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, to ensure her a long life of peace at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York.
Peter Max currently lives in New York City with his wife, Mary Max.