By Daniella Walsh | Special to the NB Indy
Pop culture icon. One of the most famous living artists. America’s illustrator.
There really are not enough labels to affix to the art of Peter Max, so perhaps it’s just as well to dispense with them altogether. The only constants are that Max aficionados span ages ranging from the Woodstock generation to their children and grandchildren and everyone with a love for color and a sense of fun.
Stylistically, he goes back and forth, from intensely hued, highly brushed, painterly rendered still-lifes or portraits, to delineated, geometric forms rendered in soft colors.
Living and working in Manhattan, the German-born Max travels frequently and will be on hand at a specially installed pop-up location at The Bluffs shopping center, 1338 Bison Ave. on May 3 and 4 from 6 to 9 p.m. His work can be previewed beginning May 1.
The exhibition will feature works in Max’s diverse styles and subjects, the latest being a reprisal of masters like Monet and Van Gogh, Picasso, Degas and Renoir, to name a few, either as portraits or interpretative paintings.
Take for example a portrait of Van Gogh. Here his facial planes are rendered in vivid pink hues, with the signature beard more brilliantly red than nature had mustered. An abstracted background and energetic brushstrokes gives the painting contemporary flair. Even though one would not think of Max as an abstract painter, he says that he does a lot of abstracts.
“I use abstract compositional elements. Anything that is not figurative becomes abstract,” he said. As for the masters, he said that his interpretation of them is meant as homage. “It’s a fun moment in my life to pay homage,” he said.
Homage also includes countless portraits of “Lady Liberty,” renditions of the US flag and an ongoing stream of celebrity portraits, one of the latest being country singer Taylor Swift.
Then again, he noted that he has painted every president of the last 50 years.
“Ronald Reagan, Bush father and son, Barrack Obama, I love them all. I am completely a-political,” he said.
Celebrities rank high in his portfolio. He’s immortalized Mick Jagger and the other Stones, Mary Tyler-Moore, the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and Andy Warhol, who was a friend.
“I was not particularly drawn to celebrities; everyone lived or came to New York and they made up my world. They were and still are my friends,” he said.
Yet, his work is available in several configurations, including posters, since he wants to keep it affordable to a wide range of collectors.
The roots of his art span far and wide. After his family moved from Germany to Shanghai, Max, a toddler then, would find art supplies at home and use them with his parents’ blessing.
I had a young nanny who always brought pencils and paper and that was how I first fell in love with drawing,” he recalled.
His family also lived in Tibet and eventually wound up in America. He formally studied art at the Art Students League in New York.
Max does not credit anyone or anything in particular with inspiring him but says that watching films and their makers’ creativity tend to spur on his own. “Ideas just come naturally. My life is mostly in my studio,” he said.
The gallery is located at The Bluffs -1338 Bison Avenue in Newport Beach. Visit roadshowcompany.com for more info.