Illustration by Kristen Rebelo inspired by the work of Peter Max
Celebrated artist Peter Max is the subject of an exhibition at the Chasen Galleries in Carytown opening on Oct. 19. As celebrities are wont to do, he'll appear on the closing weekend, Oct. 26 to 27. Having painted for five U.S. presidents and worked as the official artist of five Super Bowls, he now travels 42 weeks out of the year, attending gallery shows and museum premieres. ("Oh, I've been there many times," he says of Richmond.) The Chasen visitation is part of a nationwide tour of his work from the 1960s to the present.
RM: How did Peter Max become Peter Max?
PM: When [music promoter] Michael Lang had the nerve to do Woodstock [the era-defining 1969 festival], I did all the posters. I was doing art shows at the time, I got a page in Life magazine in '67, then four months later, two pages, then in Sept.'68 and '69. One day I was walking along with my 4-year-old son here in New York, and he points out to a newsstand, "Daddy, Daddy, that's you!" I turn around to see four covers of Life magazine held up on clothesline clips, and I was on it. I couldn't believe it. I bought the four of them hanging there. Since then, we've been in 1,120 magazines. I have a wall in my studio with about 200 to 300 covers we're on, and that's not nearly all of them.
RM: You are a traveler. Seems to be in your blood.
PM: I was born in Berlin, [but] my family went to Shanghai, Tibet, India, Africa, Israel, Paris and then, when I was 16, to Brooklyn. My third day in America, at Lafayette High School, I'm putting my sneakers on ― my first American sneakers ― I wanted them to look perfect. I'm sitting in a gym locker room, and kids are screaming, yelling. This guy sitting next to me just comes out with an opera sound that startled me. "Didn't mean to scare you," he says, and he shook my hand. "I'm Paul Sorvino." [Sorvino went on to become a major film and TV star.] I became his little buddy ― he's 6'3" ― and we became best friends. Lived two blocks away then. I just spoke with him two days ago.
RM: You're renowned but you're not resting on the fame.
PM: I'm a working artist. I have a beautiful studio right across from Lincoln Center with 45 people who work with me. I just put on my sports jacket, walk 19 blocks to the studio, take off the jacket and put on the apron and paint. I have a DJ playing while we're working. I really love what I do tremendously.
RM: You have plans for an animated film?
PM: I'm knee-deep into the project. The most amazing thing, it's so easy to make an animated movie these days. You put an actor in a suit, and then you correct the lines compared to 200 animators working frame-by-frame. I've wanted to do one, but I decided instead to do seven feature-length films. I've listened to 17,700 songs [for the soundtrack], which I got from maybe 20 different people, including Paul McCartney, Ringo [Starr], [Jon] Bon Jovi. Now that I've determined the music, I'm laying out concepts for the films.
RM: This sounds like it could be the Peter Max version of Walt Disney's Fantasia times seven.
PM: That's exactly what it'll be! Luckily I've met some amazing people. I have many friends in the different facets of film. Everybody wants to help. It'll get done. And really only now has the technology gotten to the point where it's possible.