Pop artist Peter Max, known internationally for his vivid rainbow of colors and cosmic imagery, experienced more than his 15 minutes of fame in the late 1960s.
On Sept. 5, 1969, Max made the cover of Life magazine for having tapped into the spirit of the decade’s counterculture with its psychedelic drugs, music and art.
Now in his 70s, he is still going strong, a testament to his ability to adapt to changing times without losing his enthusiasm and passion for painting or his unique style.
“I draw and paint every day of my life,” said Max. “I have a humongous studio, two floors, 10,000 square feet each, near Lincoln Center.”
The Manhattan studio also employs 40 assistants who help manage his collection of work spanning more than four decades, from the counterculture of the 1960s, the environmental movement and the Reagan years, through the turn of the century and up to the present with paintings of President Barack Obama and Taylor Swift.
“I’ve created all this work in reserve for shows,” said Max, who attends more than 100 gallery exhibits a year, where fans and collectors can meet him and also buy his original work.
On Saturday, Max will be at the Wentworth Gallery in the Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda and later at the Wentworth Gallery in Tysons Galleria in McLean, Va.
On display at each location will be 160 of his original paintings, which range in price from about $2,000 up to $90,000.
The public is welcome and encouraged to RSVP to the gallery so that organizers can better plan the reception with Max, said Maneta Siegel with the Wentworth Gallery in Bethesda.
Longtime collectors or new enthusiasts who think they might want to buy a painting are encouraged to visit the gallery before Saturday so they can take their time and complete the paperwork if they decide to purchase, she said.
There is also a 20 percent discount for people who buy early.
Buyers also have their photo taken with Max, a procedure which helps ensure the authenticity of the paintings and protects against forgeries.
“There are fakes out there,” Siegel said.
Born Peter Max Finkelstein in Berlin in 1937, Max left Germany with his family a year later to escape the Nazis. The family lived in Shanghai, Tibet, Israel and Paris before arriving in Brooklyn in 1953 when Max was 16.
A fashion designer in Berlin, his mother supplied him with plenty of art materials when he was growing up, according to Max’s biography on his website. He also had an abiding fascination with the starry heavens.
“I was going to become an astronomer, but I always loved to draw, so I went to art school,” said Max, who studied traditional painting at the Art Students League, Pratt Institute and School of Visual Arts in New York.
Through a friend in advertising, he also became interested in graphic and commercial design, joining a studio in 1962 that began producing work for advertising agencies.
Emerging around the same time was Andy Warhol, who had also worked in advertising and was starting to produce paintings about American consumerism and celebrity.
As the counterculture gained steam, tapping into psychedelic drugs and Eastern philosophies, Max began applying his trademark colors and love of astronomy to the zeitgeist of the time.
Four-color web presses were also coming into use, which enabled Max to sell millions of posters to college students and hippies, spreading his imagery — including his famous “Love” and “Cosmic Runner” posters — everywhere.
“It was about cosmology, space and color blends,” said Max, who catapulted to fame.
He said he was thrilled one day to run into astronomer Carl Sagan in an elevator — Max was a fan of Sagan’s and vice versa. He also became friends with Warhol and John Lennon and painted portraits of Muhammad Ali and Jimi Hendrix.
“Psychedelic was a hip word — it meant enlightenment,” he said about the era.
“They were images I loved and people loved it — it was of the times,” he said.
Times always change, but Max continued to paint, adapting his themes but keeping his style.
In the years since, he has designed postage stamps, commemorated sports events — including the 1995 New York City Marathon, the 1995 season Super Bowl and the 2006 Winter Olympics — and has painted portraits of five presidents and the Statue of Liberty.
In 2000, Max designed a mix of colors that enveloped the outside of a Boeing 777 for Continental Airlines.
He also designed the New York skyline and the head of the Statue of Liberty that graces the hull of the new Norwegian Breakaway cruise ship launched this spring.
Recently he has also painted a cherry blossom series, views of Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge, and interpretations of the works of Van Gogh and Matisse, while also continuing to support environmental causes and human and animal rights.
“I’m still extremely popular,” said Max, who is pleased — and also thankful — for the success he has had in his life.
“I’m one unbelievably grateful person,” he said.