It all started with scribbles. Peter Max was just 3 years old. His nanny at the time was only 9 years old. Each day, the nanny would sit the young Max down at his Shanghai, China, home, lay out sheets of paper and pens, and ask him to doodle over and over.
“It would be 45 minutes of just scribbling — 15 to 20 pages of zigzags — just to get the hand going,” Max recalls. “The whole idea is to be relaxed with a pen. I scribbled so much for many years.”
The simple exercises turned out to be training for one of the most well-known and recognized artists in a generation. Today, the playfully scribbled “Max” signature that adorns the corners of his world-famous paintings and his freestyle approach to expression and color could be seen as a nod to his one-time nanny and teacher, who Max, now 75, continues to try and locate to this day.
“When I start painting, it’s not like I have an image in mind,” says Max. “I’m just in the mood to paint. And I love to let it develop on the easel, on the canvas.”
Max will return to Ocean Galleries in Stone Harbor over Labor Day weekend, bringing a collection of new, original paintings created especially for the show, along with the iconic imagery that has made him a pop-art legend. “Peter Max: The Master of ‘Pop’ Summer 2013 Collection” opens on Thursday, Aug. 29, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 8.
“I go to many places, but I always love Stone Harbor,” Max says. “It’s a beautiful place. It’s wonderful. It’s the perfect location for people to live.”
The exhibition will include original paintings, drawings, and limited-edition prints — including some paintings of celebrities — all of which will be for sale. The gallery will also host two special guest receptions with Max signing purchased artwork from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug, 31, and Sunday, Sept. 1.
Max has been a fixture at Ocean Galleries, returning each summer with an original show of his brightly colored works. He recently completed a new series of portraits for singer Taylor Swift, who grew up spending summers in Stone Harbor and has fondly recalled seeing Max’s work at Ocean Galleries. His first series for the singer’s website and tour sold out.
“Whenever I have a new show — and I’ve been there before — I always tell them to select stuff that they haven’t seen before,” Max says of his Ocean Galleries’ show. “We’re putting together some very nice things. I draw and paint almost every day. I certainly draw every day.”
The German-born Max first rose to fame in the 1960s, with his psychedelic style and images of “Peace” and “Love” becoming the symbols for a generation.
Today, Max’s work is shown in more than 75 galleries around the world. His art has flown the skies on a Continental Airlines Boeing 777 jet and currently float in the ocean on a Norwegian cruiseliner. His art installations include the 600-foot stage for the Woodstock Music Festival, a giant mural for the Winter Olympics and 10-foot guitars for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Max has also painted for six U.S. Presidents.
“I’ve done 44 Obamas since he was the 44th president,” Max says. “And (I painted) 100 Clintons since he was my best friend.”
But while Max may have ideas about what he hopes to create, he never knows what will end up on the canvas until he is finished, he says. His Manhattan studio offers a peek into his process, with brightly-hued paintings in every shape and style — including his famous Statue of Liberty and an image of Marilyn Monroe — adorning the walls and even stacked along the floor. Doodles on paper abound, with stacks sitting on a table alongside a photo of Max shaking hands with President Ronald Reagan.
“I’ve spoken to musicians like Elton John or my friend Paul McCartney. Many times, when they’re in the mood to be in a musical place, they don’t play something they already know … something just develops,” Max says. “It’s much easier and more fun to paint and not know where I’m going then to have an idea in particular. I don’t want to be distracted, thinking, ‘Oh, I’m not doing what I wanted.’ I want to come along and just make it happen.”
He says he will have music going while he paints and suddenly an image comes out that he loves.
“I’m in an extremely productive mood,” Max says. “I’m happy all the time. I’m energetic. I love music, I love art. I wake up and I’m totally enthusiastic about what is going to happen.”