Peter Max has painted presidents and pop stars.
Over the years, his art has graced the cover of Life magazine, captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s, hung in top international museums and been emblazoned on the side of airplanes and cruise ships.
From Sept. 14-21, a selection Max's colorful paintings and prints spanning four decades will be exhibited and available for purchase at Karis Art & Design Gallery on Hilton Head Island. The iconic artist will make two special appearances at the gallery Sept. 20 and 21.
This "prince of psychedelic art" spoke with DO about his primal attraction to color, his enduring fascination with outer space and his amazing creative journey.
DO: You're best known for your colorful pop art style, which first attracted attention in the 1960s. But many people might be surprised to learn you originally excelled as a realist in the 1950s.
Peter Max: That's right. I studied realism with Frank Reilly, who was best friends with Norman Rockwell. Reilly became my teacher, and of course, Rockwell became Rockwell. I was really good at realism, but suddenly it wasn't important any more, because photography was more realistic than anything else. My style had to change.
Why do you have such a strong attraction to color?
Color is like taste, where you have certain things you like to eat.
I love color so much and became good at using it. I found out colors have complementary colors and analogous colors. I know color inside and out and what color goes with what. It's completely instinctive to me.
You're closely associated with the art of the 1960s and were at the heart of that creative movement. What did that feel like for you? Was it overwhelming?
It wasn't overwhelming, but it was definitely whelming. I loved it, I fell into it and I knew I belonged to it. I felt very at home and very comfortable.
What appealed to you about the overall vibe of the '60s?
It was a creative moment when colors and line drawings were popular. And, of course, it all blended very nicely with the music of that time, with the great rock 'n' roll and The Beatles. It belonged together.
You've had a lifelong fascination with astronomy and space, which is often reflected in your art. How did that particular interest come about?
When I was a little boy growing up in Shanghai, China, my parents owned a beautiful pagoda house right next to a park.
I used to go there with my nanny, and one day, an elderly man sat down and started talking to me. When I was 6 or 7, the moon was coming out and he told me all about the moon from a scientific point of view because he was an astronomer. He told me how big the moon is and talked to me about space and the planets. He explained it all to me, and I got a sense of this infinite thing that's out there called space.
I became so interested that the rest of my life, all I wanted to do was learn about space, go to art school and become an astronomer. Space is still of tremendous interest to me today.
How did you first get started as an artist?
I used to draw all the time with my dad, who was a wonderful artist. My mother let me draw on the wall. We had a pinkish wall in the dining room and one day I wanted to draw on it with crayons.
I messed up the wall, I guess, but my mother thought it looked beautiful. My parents were very, very supportive.
What tends to inspire your work these days?
What inspires me is the urge to be creative.
I can stand by my easel and have an urge to paint. I can have paper in front of me, and I wish to draw. I never get tired of being creative.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
One of America's most iconic artists, Peter Max was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1937 and emigrated to China, Israel and France before settling in New York. He appeared on the cover of Life magazine in 1969 and has been the official artist of the Winter Olympics, five Super Bowls, the World Series, the U.S. Open, the Indy 500 and the Kentucky Derby. He has had successful solo exhibitions at top international venues including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the Moscow Academy of Fine Art and the Modern Art Museum in Munich.
ABOUT THE COVER
When Peter Max announced he was coming to Hilton Head Island to exhibit some of his work, he offered to create something special for DO. All he asked was that we provide some inspiration. So, we sent him photos of River Street, City Hall, the Waving Girl statue and more.
As you can see from the cover, the artistic icon selected a Savannah icon - the Forsyth Park fountain, which hasn't looked this colorful and vibrant since its last St. Patrick's Day greening.