Ever since 1968, I’ve had to refute a misconception about the animation art of The Beatle’s animated film “Yellow Submarine”. One time, I even wrote a letter to the editor of a regional newspaper to correct a story that said Peter Max animated the art for the cartoon film.
Actually, there is some controversy about this. Most pop music historians credit Czech designer Heinz Edlemann and his collaborator American Milton Glaser. There are some who cautiously suggest that Peter Max did, indeed, do some original artwork for the film and record project but that he didn’t have time to do the main thrust of the film animation.
Regardless of the “Yellow Submarine” art, it must be argued that the stylings of Peter Max had a massive influence on popular art culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Peter Max’s Cosmic images seemed to be everywhere. Who hasn’t seen the bold, linear paintings with psychedelic undertones?
Amateur artists and doodlers were inspired by the fun designs, too. I remember decorating the front covers of my school notebooks with the exaggerated lettering and space age cartoonish styles. I probably spent hours drawing fantasy based doodles on envelopes and notebook pages.
Many talented folks painted their vehicles with Peter Max inspired art. Most famous are the VW Microbus and Beetle hippie cars. Peter Max drove around in a decal covered Rolls Royce limo and was chums with the Beatles. Peter Max was synonymous with the 1960s. His style captured and represented an entire generation.
The hippie generation artist, Peter Max Finkelstein, was born in Berlin, on October 19, 1937. The next year, the family fled Berlin to escape the oppression of the Nazi movement. They set up a home in Shanghai, China and lived there for ten years. The family later settled in Haifa, Israel for several years. Next, they moved to Paris for less than a year. The exposure to fine art greatly influenced the young Finkelstein’s appreciation of art. In fact, he took some classes at the Louvre.
Finally, the Finkelstein family settled in Brooklyn, New York where the young Peter attended Lafayette High School. He later began formal training at the Art Students’ League in Manhattan. In 1962, Peter Max and his friends Tom Daly and Don Rubbo started a studio called “The Daly & Max Studio”. It was here that Max’s style evolved quickly from photo-collage that incorporated astronomical detailing. The “Cosmic ’60s” period emerged from this work.
By 1971, Peter Max was not only a household name, but he was a major business player, too. His artistry was integral with over $1,500,000,000 worth of retail products. All this stemmed from a poster that Max designed for a friend. The illustration featured a sea of psychedelic characters and images. Less than two years later, almost 3,000,000 posters were sold to the public. That all led to his incredible commercial success.
Max noticed that his business was too successful for his own satisfaction. He said that he wasn’t painting nearly as much as he wished. He felt like a culture icon and that his life was becoming chaotic. He began to turn down lucrative offers that poured into his studio. He decided to do nothing but paint to his heart’s desire.
He came out of semi-retirement in 1974 when he was commissioned by the Postal Service for a ten-cent stamp. In 1976, he painted murals to greet visitors from the Canadian and Mexican borders. That same year, he created the first of his Statue of Liberty paintings. That year, he painted eleven versions of the portraits as a part of the bicentennial celebration.
These days, Peter Max is once again commercially involved. He has updated designs for tapestries, stationery, wristwatches and other items. He is working on a more limited basis than his 1960s mass appeal manner. He is posing his work as artsy and scarce. He also has plans to style Tiffany pieces and Stueben glass. Once again, Peter Max is active in art circles.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that Peter Max says he first experimented with art at the age of two. He crayoned his mother’s steamer trunks, to her great delight.