Peter Max (born Peter Max Finkelstein, October 19, 1937) is an American artist known for using bright colors in his work. Max synthesized the "Summer of Love" into artworks from canvas to mugs, clocks, scarves, clothes, and cruise ships. A master of Pop Art, he is the official portrait artist for the Statue of Liberty and welcome banners at the U.S. Ports of Entry.
His work is an indispensable guide for cultural literacy of the 1960s, and his work commands a solid following worldwide and is consistently collected by the art world.
In 1938, 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 Max said greatly influenced his appreciation for art.
Max and his parents first settled in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn in 1953 where he attended Lafayette High School (New York City), where he was classmates with future actor Paul Sorvino. 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 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 art posters and other merchandise.
Peter Max invited Satchidananda Saraswati to New York in 1966 for a two-day visit which turned into a permanent residence for Satchidananda, who became surrounded by many students who formed Integral Yoga International, www.integralyoga.org. Peter Max is credited with being the catalyst that brought Yoga to the United States in a modern and scientific yet classical approach of Satchidananda Saraswati,who inspired cardiologist Dean Ornish, MD, on his medical thesis. The Yoga master was invited to open the 1969 Woodstock Festival as he was well known in New York for his message and example of peace and his loving service to humanity.
Max appeared on The Tonight Show on August 15, 1968. He was featured on the cover of Life magazine's September 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 United States Postal Service commissioned Max to create the 10-cent postage stamp to commemorate the Expo '74 World's Fair in Spokane, Washington, and Max drew a colorful psychedelic scene with a "Cosmic Jumper" and a "Smiling Sage" against a backdrop of a cloud, sun rays and a ship at sea on the theme of "Preserve the Environment." July 4, 1976, Max began his Statue of Liberty series leading to his efforts with Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca to help in the restoration of the statue.
In 1976, Peter Max Paints America were commissioned by the ASEA of Sweden. The book project commemorated the United States 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, deviating from Earnhardt's trademark black car. He was also the Official Artist of New York City's 2000 Subway Series, the World Series of Major League Baseball, between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets.
Max first painted Taylor Swift's portrait as a gift to the singer 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.
In 1990, Max purchased a collection of Chevrolet Corvettes for an intended art project, but never used them and let them rot in a series of garages.
In 1994, he designed the artwork for progressive rock band Yes's fourteenth studio album, Talk.
In 2012, he was chosen to paint the hull art of the New York themed ship Norwegian Breakaway by Norwegian Cruise Line.
In 2016, he created a commemorative painting for David Ortiz's final season with the Boston Red Sox.
Max's art work was first associated with the counter culture, neo-expressionism, and psychedelic movements in graphic design during the late 1960s and early 1970s. He is known for using bursts of color, often containing much or all of the visible spectrum. His work was influenced by others. Max's repeated claims, varying in detail, to have worked on Yellow Submarine have 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 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. Additional commissions have included the creation of the first "Preserve the Environment" postage stamp, in honor of the World's Fair in Spokane, WA, border murals at the entry points Canada and Mexico by the US General Services, and exhibitions in over 40 museums and 50 galleries worldwide., He often features images of celebrities, politicians, athletes and sporting events and other pop culture subjects in his artwork.
One of Continental Airlines' Boeing 777-200ER aircraft (registered N77014) sported a livery designed by Max.
His artwork was featured on CBS's The Early Show where his "44 Obamas," commemorating Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, was debuted.
Harper Collins in 2013 published a book of the artist's memoirs and thoughts called The Universe of Peter Max. In it, he relates stories of his life as well as descriptions and thoughts surrounding of some of his artwork.
Max is an environmentalist, vegan and defender of human and animal rights.
Max had a nine-year-long relationship with musician and model Rosie Vela that ended in 1985.
In November 1997, Max pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal district court to charges of concealing more than $1.1 million in income from the Internal Revenue Service in connection with the sales of his works between 1988 and 1991. The plea came two days before he was to go on trial on an 11-count conspiracy and tax fraud indictment. Under the deal, he pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the IRS and a charge of tax evasion, telling a federal judge that he had taken payments in cash, deposited customers' checks into his personal account and arranged other transactions to avoid tax liability. In June 1998, he was sentenced to two months in prison and a $30,000 fine. The federal judge ordered Max to pay the taxes he owed and to perform 800 hours of community service.
In 2002, Max offered to provide a life of green fields for Cinci Freedom, a cow that escaped from an Ohio slaughterhouse. The cow jumped over a six-foot fence while the slaughterhouse workers were on break and she eluded capture for eleven days. Max donated $180,000 worth of his art to benefit the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, to ensure the cow a long life of peace at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York.
Max lives in New York City and has two adult children, Adam Cosmo Max and Libra Astro Max.