Peter Max, famous for pop art encompassing psychedelic imagery,
a wide spectra of color, and unique portraits, said it was an encounter with an astronomer when he was a child that sparked his fascination with the universe and greatly influenced his art.
“I had this unbelievable, you can’t even imagine, interest, which I still have today, about how big the universe is, the planets,” said Max.
While many of Max’s
works are based on familiar images, such as Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” or icons like Daffy Duck, Max told Abudato that when he is not focused on a specific subject he often has no idea what he will create when he puts his brush on the canvas. In fact, he said he enjoys the freedom of not knowing.
“When I paint, I don’t know what I’m painting until I paint it,” said Max.
Max cites Picasso and Monet among his major influences. His work also includes patriotic themes including portraits of former president Bill Clinton and most recently President Barack Obama.
One of Max’s most famous series of paintings, six versions of the Statue of Liberty, has a special story behind it. Max told Adubato that early in his career, he met Ronald Reagan on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Reagan had already owned 35 of his works and exchanged phone numbers with the artist. Years later, when Mr. Reagan became president, Mrs. Reagan invited Max to the White House on July 4, 1981. It was there that Max created the series of paintings–and had a surprise visit from the president.
“[Reagan] said you’re painting six, I love ’em, I love ’em and do you mind if I put a stroke?
Max, using his hands to demonstrate to Adubato, said he asked the president to copy the two brush strokes he made on one of the paintings. The president complied with a single stroke.
Max still has that painting in his Upper West Side studio.