Eye-popping colors: the canvasses of Peter Max | VailDaily.com
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Eye-popping colors: the canvasses of Peter Max

Wren Wertin
Special to the DailyLiberty c Peter Max 2002.
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The prolific pop artist – with a penchant for color, color and more color – usually has several projects going at one time. In addition to preparing for shows around the world, including today in Vail and Sunday in Beaver Creek, Max has been getting ready for the 45th Grammy Awards. As the official artist for the ceremony, he had an idea.

“I thought, “45 Grammies, 45 Bonos,'” said Max Wednesday morning from his Manhattan studio. While speaking on the phone he was busily signing Bonos and some abstract expressionist images he’d painted the night before.

The only hitch was adding another 45 canvasses to his already big work load. Of course to Max, that’s not a hitch but a blessing.

“To be in the creative process is really a high,” he explained. “If ever there’s bad news around, all I have to do is go home and paint and everything falls into place.”

Max was born in Berlin, but he’s adopted America – all of America – as his own. When he speaks of his country, there’s an apparent affection in his words. On Independence Day of 1976, he decided to paint the Statue of Liberty on a four-by-eight feet canvas.

“And it was beautiful,” said Max. “The next year it was given to Jimmy Carter.”

Thus began his tradition of painting the statue every year, and spearheading the fund-raising efforts to refurbish the symbolic piece. His long association with the statue is obvious in the familiarity of his nick name for it, simply The Liberty. Since then, Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton have all received part of his ongoing “Liberty Suite.”

“I do that in my gratitude to America,” he explained. “Only here could my career happen. It couldn’t happen in Australia, in France, or anywhere else. This country is so open to enjoying the creativity of an artist like myself. For that I give back one or two days a year – though now it’s more like 30 days a year – to paint just American images for a country with such a generosity to the world.”

Max feels America’s strength is diversity, for from diversity springs creativity. When he speaks of creativity, he’s not speaking only of the obvious paintings and literature and films. The Internet, space travel, computer inventions – these are all exciting and creative inventions for the artist.

“(The space shuttle) Columbia was a very, very sad event,” he said. “When I saw it on television, when my son called me and told me, my heart actually hurt for these beautiful people who studied and worked so hard. They did their job so well and so much wanted that, and for 16 days they had nothing but success.”

That work is something Max can relate to – being driven to keep going on. He likens his dedication to that of a sprinkling of marathoners who live in his building.

“Whether it’s stormy or not, they’re always there, running and jogging, maybe 20 miles a day,” he explained. “It’s loving the work. It’s what you do.”

Max’s first association with America was through comic books, movies and radio broadcasts. As is written in his bio:

“Young Peter formed an impression of the land of Captain Marvel, Flash Gordon, swing jazz, swashbucklers, freedom and creativity.”

Max emigrated to America with his family when he was 16, and studied art. He became smitten with commercial illustration and graphic art. He began designing album covers and book jackets, and eventually moved to larger canvasses, such as stages. He is certainly one of the most easily recognizable pop artists of the day.

A contemporary of Warhol, anything with a printable surface is open season for Max. If the man equals the work, people have slept on him, eaten off him, worn him, studied him, torn him, danced upon him. And most importantly, they’ve hung him on their walls. His designs have been printed on plates, sheets, clothing, Superbowl tickets – everywhere color is allowed. He comes to Eagle County ready to sign prints and interact with whomever feels like dropping by. Peter Max will be at Masters Gallery (477-0600 ) in Vail today from 6 to 9 p.m. and at C. Anthony Gallery (845-8645 ) in Beaver Creek Sunday from noon to 3 p.m.

“It’s a tremendous human adventure,” he said. “We’re such a creative country … with an endless amount of inventions coming out of the colossal mix of humanity. That’s why we’re so rich in culture.”

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.


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