World-famous artist Peter Max brings his “New Masters” art series to Gallery 319 in Woodland Hills for an exhibit and sale. A look at what makes his colorful creations just as relevant today as they were in the ‘60s.
Written byPauline Adamek
Psychedelic pop pioneer, artist Peter Max deftly captured the visual zeitgeist of the 1960s—the groovy colors, the hippie-trippy swirling visuals, the bell-bottomed, flowing paisley fashions—and parlayed his talents into an astonishingly lucrative career. Drawing on London fashion maven Mary Quant’s mod-inspired flower power and Florentine fashion designer Emilio Pucci’s kaleidoscopic color block fabric prints, Peter Max was more “factory” than his peer Andy Warhol (minus Warhol’s celebrity scene), churning out vibrantly hued posters, thanks to an innovative four-color printing process.
Commercial commissions flooded in. From dreamy-cool and childlike animated TV ads for 7UP soda to illustrated products for General Electric, Peter produced pop-up pop art and in three short years managed to accrue a whopping 72 licensing deals with major corporations. Producing merchandise such as swimsuits, electric guitars, and sneakers, his numerous product lines went on to generate more than $1.9 billion in sales. Not bad for a creative cat in the swinging ‘60s! No wonder his disembodied face grinned from the cover of Life magazine in 1969, subtitled with an ironic nod to James Joyce—“Portrait of the artist as a very rich man.”
Producing innumerable pieces of art— on canvas, paper or board—for the past six decades (and counting), Peter, who is now 75-years-old, just keeps doing what he loves. “I’ve got plans for the next 100 years!” he quips.
His paintings are constantly exhibited around the world and sold at a range of prices. Peter claims, “They can go from $7,000 to $10,000 for the smaller works on paper to $40,000 to $70,000 for very large pieces.” He says he also has quite a few paintings in his studio gallery in New York that sell for a cool million. “I get those kinds of prices,” he murmurs.
Throughout the decades, his style has evolved from psychedelic rainbow cosmic pop art to illustrated photographs, each energetically swiped with splashes of vibrant colors. Brimming with deliriously happy swirls, a touch of whimsy endures in all of Peter’s distinctive works. “Style has an evolution of its own. Sometimes when I lift my brush, it’s a certain mood or the music I’m listening to that drives me.”
His “New Masters” series, soon to arrive at Gallery 319, includes interpretive works of Vincent van Gogh (his self-portrait), Monet, Pablo Picasso, Renoir and Edgar Degas (ballerinas)—all conceived in Peter’s signature style. Other works will also be on exhibit February 6–17, including his famed “Flag” and majestic “Statue of Liberty” series, as well as a selection of celebrity portraits.
These days Peter works exclusively from photographs. Despite his formal art training studying anatomy, figure drawing and composition, Max has never worked with live models. “That was 100 years ago,” he laments. “People don’t sit any more for artists. I’ve painted major, major celebrities and political figures. I’ve been very, very lucky. You hang out with them, have coffee for hours, but when you paint them, you do it in a studio by yourself from a photograph.”
At Peter Max’s bustling Brooklyn atelier, he reportedly has close to 50 people on staff including a full-time music supervisor/DJ to assist him with music selection for an upcoming series of animated movies.
“Each are individual. They’re all Peter Max. Stories I can tell from morning ’til night.” The irrepressible artist laughs, “I have enough visuals for 1,000 films!”
The artist will make two appearances at Gallery 319: Saturday, February 16, 6 to 9 p.m. and Sunday, February 17, 2 to 5 p.m. For more on the Peter Max exhibit, visit gallery-319.com.