Even at 74, iconic painter Peter Max still feels part of the counterculture movement


MAXED OUT | Pop artist Peter Max designed the psychedlic cover exclusively for Dallas Voice, but he’s long specialized in American iconography as his subjects, including the Dallas skyline, above.

Arnold Wayne Jones  |  Life+Style Editor

Even though Peter Max isn’t gay, for 40 years, he’s been a natural fit with the gay community.

The traditional rainbow-colored Pride flag debuted in 1978, but Max has been doing rainbows since the psychedelic ’60s, always with a distinctive, primary-color-field.

Might he have been an influence? Even Max isn’t sure.

“I am certainly aware of the [Pride flag], though I don’t know if I was an influence. But if I was, I’m glad!” says the 74-year-old artist on the phone from his studio in New York.

There’s no mistaking a Peter Max painting; after decades in the spotlight, he has become iconic. With his cosmic-wow, eye-catching pieces, he has long been the pop! in pop art.

Max is as famous for his commercial pieces — a 1974 postage stamp, album covers (especially The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine), his “Love” poster from the 1970s, and his fascination with the Statue of Liberty — as he is for his gallery work. (Full disclosure: I’ve had a signed Lady Liberty poster in my office for eight years — it always gets noticed.)

Cover“The commercial stuff is one in 100 — the other 99 times is me just dancing on the canvas. But it’s often very public,” he says. “But I do still identify with the counterculture movement — I’m still a hippie at heart.”

He also stays in touch with his ’60s roots — just recently he did another series of portraits with long-time friend Ringo Starr.

Max brings that hippie aesthetic to North Texas this weekend with two appearances: At Wisby-Smith Fine Art in the Crescent on Friday night, Nov. 18, and Saturday afternoon, Nov. 19, then at Milan Gallery in Fort Worth Saturday night.

Even into his 70s, Max continues to work with the stamina of someone a fraction of his age — and he never seems to grow tired of it.

“It’s natural. I come to my studio and I have a tremendous will to paint. That’s amplified 100 times when I stand in front a canvas. When I pick up the brush, it’s amplified 10 times more. When I touch the brush to the paint, I don’t know what I’m painting — I just stand there and am amazed that a painting comes out.

“It’s like a jazz musician who hasn’t written down any of his songs.”
So enthusiastic is Max about his art that he designed the cover of this issue exclusively for Dallas Voice.

“It’s what I do. I paint, I draw, I go to gallery openings , I meet  people, I have a beautiful sweetheart of a wife and I do lovely interviews like I’m doing with you. I’m most proud about all of it, from the first time I started to this very moment talking to you. I’m serious about [my art], but I want to be playful, too,” Max says.
Next up for him: He’s going to do some more licensing of his work — something he hasn’t done in years — and plans to break into animation. But it’s all good.

“When I go to my gallery shows, it’s all young people,” he says. “It’s mind-boggling. I never dreamt my life would be like this. I love it all — every second of it.”
Wisby-Smith Fine Art, 500 Crescent Court, suite 146. Nov. 18, 6–9 p.m., Nov. 19, 1–3 p.m.
Milan Gallery, 505 Houston St., Fort Worth. Nov. 19, 7–10 p.m.
Wisby-Smith.com. MilanGallery.com. PeterMax.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.