Peter Max: Counter-Cultural Icon

by Naomi Gledhill from MY HERO Staff

153013Peter Max Wikimedia Commons

Peter Max, born Peter Max Finkelstein, is an American artist and illustrator best known for his use of vibrant colours, psychedelic style, and pop art. He often features celebrities and prominent figures in pop culture and has been the official artist of several major events such as the Super Bowl, the Grammys and the World Cup in 1994.

Max was born in Berlin in 1937 to German-Jewish parents, Salla and Jakob. The family fled from Berlin in 1938 to avoid persecution by the Nazis; they moved to Shanghai in China and remained there for the next 10 years. In 1948 the family relocated again, this time to Haifa, Israel, and it was there that Max discovered his love for drawing. One of his teachers at his school in Mount Carmel recommended that he take an extra-curricular art class after school, and he began under Professor Hünik, a Viennese expressionist. Max’s family relocated several times and spent six months living in Paris, where Max took a drawing class at the Louvre. The family finally settled in Brooklyn, New York, in 1956, and Max started his formal art training under Frank J. Reilly at the Art Students League of New York in Manhattan.

By 1962, Max had built a portfolio and decided to open his first small art studio, called “The Daly & Max Studio” with his good friend, Tom Daly. Max’s paintings and collages prominently featured psychedelic, counter-culture imagery infused with extremely vibrant colors. Max secured his position as a counter-cultural icon in 1967 when he was asked to design the flyer for the second “Be In,” a series of political gatherings in Central Park, New York.

Throughout the 1970s, Max worked on several projects. In 1970, his exhibition, “The World of Peter Max” opened in San Francisco; many of the works featured in the exhibition were then featured in poster format in his book Poster Book. Following the success of Poster Book in 1970, Max released Superposter Book the following year. In 1974, the U.S. postal service commissioned Max to design a postage stamp in celebration of the Expo ’74 World’s fair in Spokane. The stamp featured a colorful design with the 1974 theme “Preserve the Environment” printed along the bottom.

153014U.S. stamp Expo '74 World's Fair Issue - displaying an image of Peter Max's "Cosmic Runner"Wikimedia Commons

In July of 1976, Max painted a portrait of the Statue of Liberty to commemorate Independence Day. This became an annual tradition. Inspired by Max’s work, the CEO of Chrysler Corporation, Lee Lococca, led a project to restore the statue. Following its restoration in 1986, Max created eleven new portraits of the statue to celebrate.

Also in 1976, Max was commissioned by the ASEA of Sweden to create a series of works inspired by the United States to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial. The works were printed in a booked titled Peter Max Paints America. The book opened with the following statement:

"Peter Max Paints America is based on works of art commissioned by ASEA of Sweden on the 200th anniversary of the founding of the United States of America, in sincere recognition of the historic bonds of friendship between the people of Sweden and the people of the United States, recalling that Sweden was one of the first countries to extend its hand in friendship to the new nation."[1]

In 1990, Max was given the rights to a section of the Berlin wall, in which he carved a dove to symbolise peace. The piece was installed on the battleship Intrepid.

As well as art, Max has a great love of animals and has strongly advocated for their rights throughout his life. In 2002, a cow escaped from a slaughterhouse in Ohio. Max donated Max donated $180,000 worth of art to the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This contribution helped permanently re-home the cow in Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York, where she lived for the rest of her natural life.

153015One of Peter Max's art galleries in Las Vegas, 2008. Wikimedia Commons

Now, Peter Max is 85 years old, still lives in New York, and has been suffering with dementia as a result of Alzheimer’s disease. His art, however, is still being featured in museums and exhibitions across the globe. Peter Max is a counter-cultural icon and his unique style and continues to inspire artists young and old all over the world.

To view some of Peter Max's work, click here

[1] Zurbel, Victor. Peter Max Paints America.New York: Acropolis Books Limited, 1976.

Page created on 10/18/2023 11:33:37 PM

Last edited 11/20/2023 5:46:31 PM

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, . Peter Max. [Online] Available

Zurbel, Victor. Peter Max Paints America.New York: Acropolis Books Limited, 1976.

Taggart, Emma. 6 Facts About Peter Max, the Master of Rainbow-Hued Psychedelic Pop Art. [Online] Available