Still Colorful: Visiting Peter Max's New York Studio
FROM APRIL, 2016
Walk into the studio of Peter Max and enter a world of color, light and optimism, with walls decorated with paintings and art pieces that take you back to a time of peace, love and rock and roll.
Throughout the studio complex — which occupies two stories of a nondescript building near New York’s Central Park West — there are American icons as seen through Max's kaleidoscopic vision: the stars-and-stripes flag, the Statue of Liberty, Frank Sinatra, Woodstock. There's also a colorfully painted Baldwin piano signed by Ringo Starr in the main hallway. A Smirnoff vodka bottle Max designed hangs in the hallway. Then there are signature images of masterworks by Monet, Renoir and Degas as re-imagined through Max’s playful aesthetic. (Mona Lisa never had more reason to smile.)
At 78 and with more than five decades of prolific output, Max continues to produce projects large and small. Rooted in the psychedelic era of pop art in the ’60s, the popularity of his works still remains high, whether it’s for its nostalgia or sheer exuberance. A few years ago, he was commissioned to paint a design on a ship for a cruise line. (He had already decorated a Boeing 707.) More recently he provided artwork for NBC’s “The Voice,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he’s already planning the backdrop for the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival slated for 2019. There’s also a long list of museum exhibits and gallery shows scheduled, including one at the end of April at the Geary Gallery in Darien, which he will visit twice.
Max has long-since shed his flowing shirts for more J. Press outfits, such as the salmon-colored wool sweater he wore on the day of my visit. But he still has the sweet air of a transported soul from the flower-power days, and despite legal tangling last fall between his wife of 19 years and his son over ownership of works and the care of the artist. During the conflict — which received tabloid attention in New York — it was revealed that Max had a mild form of dementia, but he has never been ruled incompetent to handle his own affairs.
But on the day of my visit, Max played the gentle, soft-spoken host as he guided me around his studio, where he often walks from his Riverside Drive home on the Upper West Side.