April 2012

Art Invasion: Peter Max Coming to Hilton Head

Author: Paul deVere

From April 21 to 28, the Karis Art Gallery in The Village at Wexford will be home to a collection of works by art icon Peter Max. On April 27 and 28, the icon himself will be here.

Max quite literally burst onto the art scene in the mid-1960s with exuberant splashes of color, characters, cosmic explosions and a style so accessible and original that admirers compare his impact on the world of art to the impact of the Beatles on music. He helped save the Statue of Liberty with his Lady Liberty paintings. He has painted for U.S. presidents. He has been the official for the Super Bowl, the Grammy Awards, the Olympics and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He has done over 1,100 magazine covers, including one for Playboy (January 2000, commissioned by our own Tom Staebler, former art director for the magazine).

Paper and cloth are not his only canvas. In 2004, a Continental Airlines Boeing 777 sported a Peter Max design from nose to tail. In April 2013, when the new Norwegian Lines cruise ship, Breakaway, sets sail, its hull will be decorated with Peter Max artwork.

CH2: You have created art on so many surfaces: canvas, paper, linens, commercial jet liners and I saw now cruise ships. Do you have any other surface in mind that you would like to do?
Peter Max: No, after a cruise ship, I don’t know. It’s just like the little kid in me out of his mind about it. There’s always a little kid inside that loves it, loves this kind of stuff.

CH2: Did your break come with the album cover for jazz pianist Meade Lewis?
PM: When I came out of art school, I didn’t know which way to go. I was a very good painter. (I) painted perfectly, like photographs, still life, nudes, people portraits. I didn’t know anything about the Madison Avenue scene or the fine art world. It was just a little like smidges of each, and somebody saw my work—Ken Deardoff at Riverside Records, I’ll never forgot that. He calls me up. I didn’t know who he was. He asked me to come by and he said, “I love your work; you do these beautiful kind of impressionistic realism, and we are doing an album of Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis, a very important jazz pianist.” He gave me a photograph, I did my artist version of it, and it won a gold medal at the society of art—a big, big association, within about three months. So, that was my first big job and my first gold medal award. Then I did another one, which was so amazing. I was getting award after award. It was unbelievable. I never submitted that stuff. I didn’t know how to do that.

CH2: In the 1960s and ’70s, virtually every college student had at least one Peter Max poster on his or her wall. Many critics said your popularity was due because it was so accessible. Was that intentional?
PM: Yes, it was intentional. But you’ve got to understand. I came out, and I was just an art student. I really didn’t know much about the art world at all. I didn’t know what was going on there. Then when I won the gold medal, Riverside wanted me to do a poster. The poster flew out the door. They printed 10,000 posters and they were gone in three weeks. Then somebody else came to me, a printer, and he said, “Listen, I love your work. We’d like to print your posters, no charge, just maybe sign a handful so we can give them to our clients, so that we can say we are printing Peter Max.” That’s when I realized I was getting popular.

CH2: The Taylor Swift pieces that you have done recently are very popular. Is the younger generation rediscovering Peter Max?
PM: It never ended from generation to generation. I mean I do about 25-30 interviews per month, and I don’t know where they come from. It’s mind boggling to me. I am beyond belief that that is going on by itself. I am happily always in the studio. I can’t wait, in the mornings, to get here.

CH2: You are known for your strongest stands on the environment and human and animal rights, plus concern for families directly affected by 9/11. You have shown your concern by your generosity through donating art in your name. Is this an extension of your work or Peter Max?
PM: It is an extension of having met the yogi Swami. A Swami is like a holy man. I met a holy man in Paris. I brought him to America two days later, and within three days I invited about 40 friends of mine; girlfriends brought some other buddies and had about 60 people. I have a very gigantic living room facing the Hudson. About 45-55 people showed up. This was like 1966, a time when people were getting high, smoking pot—it was that period. He gave a talk to us for 2-1/2 hours. I tell you, from the second he finished talking, none of my friends ever touched anything anymore. We all got into yoga, and it has been 40 years for me now.

CH2: Is there a next big thing for Peter Max?
PM: Well, the next thing I am working on now, and I have worked on it for the last four months. I want to make animated films. That is where I am going next.

Peter Max’s exquisite paintings will be on exhibition and available for acquisition at
the Karis Art Gallery on Hilton Head Island beginning April 21, while Max will be
making two very special appearances at the gallery April 27 and 28. Artwork is
available for acquisition and all appearances are open to the public; Meet the Artist
receptions on Friday, April 27 from 6-9 pm and Saturday, April 28 from 1-3 pm.
RSVP’s are requested: 843-785-5100 or www.karisartgallery.com

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