The electric colors and singular style of artist Peter Max's work is unmistakable. The pop icon and unofficial U.S. painter laureate will bring his art to Clayton's , 14 N. Meramec Ave., this month for an exhibit and receptions.
The show, “Colors of a Better World,” will feature both new and classic Max art—including original Rams and Cardinals helmets by Max—from Saturday through Oct. 23. He will attend receptions from 7 to 10 p.m. Oct. 22 and from 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 23.
When Max recounts his staggering sales statistics or relates his impressive accomplishments, there is no hint of ego or braggadocio. He relates his stories with a sense of wide-eyed wonder and punctuates nearly every statement by saying, “Can you believe it?” It's as though he cannot believe his good fortune. There's a touch of wonderment in his view of the world—a boyish sense of awe.
Max's road began when he was a 1-year old in Shanghai, China. His 14-year-old Chinese nanny, hired because she was an artist, encouraged him to paint.
“Chinese is such an amazing culture,” Max said. “You would see the dragons in a parade going down the street. My nanny painted with me all the time, and I picked up the knack of art. I was skillful—like some people are with handwriting. Eventually, I became better than her.”
Max never forgot the nanny or her influence on his life and art. “We called her Umba,” Max said. “I went looking for her. She would have been in her 80s. I was told it was impossible to find her, and I left with tears in my eyes. I would have brought her to America and bought her a little house.”
His family moved to Tibet, Israel and France. Max studied art in many styles and developed an interest in astronomy. After his family settled in New York in 1956, a high school friend changed the course of his life.
“I thought I was going to become an astronomer, but a friend talked me into studying at the Art Students League in Manhattan for the summer,” Max said. “I stayed for seven years.”
Fame and success came fast for Max. After leaving art school in the early '60s, he began creating art posters in which he captured what was happening in America. He sold millions of them in his Cosmic '60s style, and his art began to appear on GE clocks and other merchandise.
“Those products did over $2 billion in retail,” Max said.
“I was shocked,” Max said. “I was 28 or 29. Can you imagine?”
Over the years, Max has continued to accumulate awards and special honors. One of the projects he found most satisfying was painting four portraits of firefighters who died in the World Trade Center and giving them to the families of the victims.
“The fire department told me the families had tears of joy streaming down their faces when they were presented with them,” Max said. “So I painted 420 more.”
In addition to his commitments and his global reach, Max still finds time to paint nearly every day.
“Every day is new,” Max said. “I stand at my easel with 70 colors of paint. I have a full-time DJ. He plays jazz while I paint, sometimes till 10 or 11 at night. Then I go to bed and can't wait to start again in the morning.”
Max also finds time to relax and center himself. “I meditate every day,” Max said. “I'm big on meditation. My life is about understanding, never judging. I'm a good father, a good husband, a good friend. I'm good to my staff.”
When asked about his accomplishments, Max's voice reflects wonderment.
“It's unbelievable,” Max said. “When people started to recognize me on the street—I never dreamed. When I look back on my life, it's mind-boggling. I mean, I'm a humble guy. Can you imagine?”