It's Peter to the Max

The artist with a palette that would make a rainbow envious comes to Safety Harbor as part of an exhibit.

Published February 18, 2007

SAFETY HARBOR - Put on your bell-bottoms and macrame vests - the Max is back.

Yes, Peter Max, the paramount pop artist who emerged in the 1960s with a colorful cosmic style, will be back in Safety Harbor during his exhibit "Colors of a Better World" at Syd Entel Galleries.

During a phone interview, the New York City resident said he was happily anticipating his return to the land of sunshine and palm trees. His last show at the gallery was in 2005.

"I'm on the 15th floor overlooking the Hudson River and everything is completely white," he said. "We're in the midst of a blizzard."

It's a harsh reality for someone who prefers his world to be, well, color-drenched.

Max's factor emerged about the same time as the Beatles, when the country was ready to embrace vibrant, psychedelic-style art. Since then, he has gone on to paint lively portraits of world leaders, celebrities and even an eight-story stage at a Woodstock Music Festival. He has been the official artist for Super Bowls, many international sporting events, global summits and the Grammys.

Perhaps his most soaring accomplishment is the Boeing 777 jet he painted for Continental Airlines.

"It's a thunderstorm of abstract color," he said. "Kind of like it flies into the storm and comes out the other side in these bright and cheerful colors."

Max said he owes his five decades of commercial success as an artist to his mother, who placed art supplies on the balconies of their four-tiered pagoda in Shanghai, China, when he was a child.

"She told me, 'Go out and make the biggest mess you want and we'll clean up after you,' " he said. "She gave me the freedom to be an artist."

After high school, he studied at the Art Students League of New York, a traditional academy where he developed his skills in realism.

"It was all about light and shade," he said.

His first paid job was a painting of his Aunt Zeisel, who, by the way, lived to be 107.

After that, he spent months as a starving artist, traipsing the streets of New York looking for work. Then an art director noticed some doodled stars, comets, and Saturns on a sketch pad beneath Max's realistic-style paintings.

"He asked me why I hadn't told him I could do that," Max recalled. He left with 14 projects that afternoon and hasn't been hungry since.

"It's been one long, magic carpet ride," he said, referring to his career.

Max has painted every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter, except George W. Bush, and called them all friendly, charismatic guys. Especially Bill Clinton, who he said, "has an aura around him."

He has also painted portraits of the Beatles and the Dalai Lama. He paid homage to former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev with his installation called the "Forty Gorbys."

At 68, Max employs over 100 people in his New York City studio and said he is not ready to retire.

"I'm just beginning to bloom," he said.

He attributes his robust health to a vegan diet and a passion for life, the environment, humans and animals.

Correspondent Terri Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com

If you go

Max out your weekend

The Peter Max exhibit, "Colors of a Better World," is a retrospective featuring more than 100 pieces of Max's work. It continues at the Syd Entel Galleries, 247 Main St., in Safety Harbor through today.

Special hours for this event: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.

A reception for Peter Max will be held today from noon to 3 p.m.

For more information, call the gallery at 727 725-1808.