The name Peter Max has become synonymous with some of his well-know icons, including visions of the cosmos, American images like the flag and the Statue of Liberty, idyllic worlds and imagery that evokes emotion and spirituality. Max’s journey through this iconography began at an early age and continues to this day.
Max’s mastery of bold brushwork was inspired by witnessing the “calligraphic ballet” at the monastery across the street while he lived in Shanghai as a child. Watching from his window, Max was taken with a monastic ritual of using a 5-foot brush to create a large inscription that would be displayed at the temple. This connection between painting and performance manifest in Max as a flair for gesture. It can be seen in the freedom of line, the splash of color, even in his signature “Max.”
While living in Shanghai, Max was also exposed to American comics, movies and music, all of which coalesced as influences that were to drive the development of his art. The bright colors and bold lines of comics, the highly entertaining and immersive cinema experience and the allure of American jazz all had a profound influence on the impressionable young Max.
After the family moved to Tiberias, Max became a student of the Viennese Expressionist Hunik, who awoke in Max the ability to see color where there seemingly was none. This realization lead to Max’s unique vision and use of color. He rapidly followed this development with the refinement of his drawing technique. Reverting back to the comics he so loved, Max learned the ability to create gesture, movement and line with a minimum of strokes.
It was shortly thereafter that Max discovered his love of astrophysics and the cosmos while reading the encyclopedia. He never got beyond “A,” and is passion so awed his parents that they arranged for him to audit astronomy classes at the science university, the Technion in Haifa. He began to comprehend “… in some fantastic way, vistas so immense they could never be seen with the eyes”. Far from a fleeting fancy, Max’s fascination with the sciences has grown throughout his life, and he remains a frequent visitor to the Hayden Planetarium where he attends lectures dealing with DNA, fractals, black holes and the latest scientific breakthroughs.
While in Paris, on his way to New York, Max was influenced by the work of a classical realist painter of the nineteenth century, Adolphe-William Bouguereau. The study of this artist lead Max to realize that he needed to hone his technique in order to bring his visions to life.