Peter Max is the Willy Wonka of artists, producing whimsical paintings from his studio near Manhattan's Lincoln Center. His psychedelic, explosively colorful pop art calls out to kids and families, who are invited to meet Max on Sunday at the Nassau County Museum of Art.
Max, now 76, has seen his work on objects as tiny as a postage stamp and enormous as a Boeing 777. Close to 200 of his works are on display at the museum. For Sunday, Max has drawn a template for kids to color, which can be downloaded at nassaumuseum.com /events. He'll choose winners, and entries will be part of a temporary museum exhibit.
What's Max looking for? Color. His paintings aren't orange, they're Day-Glo orange. Not violet, but electric violet. Not red, but blood red. "I see everything in beautiful colors," Max says.
BORN TO DRAW
Peter Max Finkelstein was born in Germany and started drawing with his dad as a child after the family moved to Shanghai, where his father owned a store selling European-style clothing. The family also lived in Israel and Paris before moving to Brooklyn when Max was 16 and in high school.
"I always thought maybe I'd become an engineer; I used to love space, outer space. I'm still today, even today, I'm most fascinated by stars and planets," Max says. Celestial symbols frequently appear in Max's paintings.
Max spent six years at the Art Students League of New York, signing his works simply "Max." "Peter Max is my first and middle name," he says. "Everybody called me that since I'm 4 years old. I love it because it was very easy to remember, and that was my name that my mother called me all the time."
Max's fame snowballed, he says. He offers this memory of walking down a city street in 1969, holding the hand of his son, Adam:
"Suddenly, he says to me, 'Daddy, Daddy that's you, that's you.' He points with his finger at a newsstand. You know how in a newsstand, there's usually some guy sitting inside? What's over his head, but four Life magazine covers with my face on it. Life magazine, on the cover, me. I was just out of my mind with happiness. I bought all four copies."
By now, Max and his works -- paintings of world leaders, rock stars, sports icons, American symbols -- have been featured on thousands of magazine covers, and he urges young artists to pursue widespread exposure. "Today we're living in a world of media. Media are the eyes and ears of the world," Max says. "It's good if you are an artist whose work goes into galleries; it should also go into the windows of the world."
Max has a daughter, Libra, in addition to his son, but no grandchildren. He's divorced from their mother, Liz -- "we're best friends," Max says -- and married to Mary, the "love of my life," for 17 years.
Max says he's "75 going on 32, because I'm a vegetarian, I'm a total vegan, I'm a yogi." He brought a swami over from India in the 1960s named Swami Satchidananda, and they opened Integral Yoga Institute in Manhattan. A poster featuring the longhaired, bearded swami is part of the Nassau museum exhibit.
Max's advice for kids interested in art? "Draw a lot. Draw silly drawings. Circles, squares, zigzags, just move the pen around."
WHEN | WHERE 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday (Max will speak at 1 and sign books and posters purchased at the museum at 3), Nassau County Museum of Art, 1 Museum Dr., Roslyn Harbor. Best for children ages 5 to 10.
INFO 516-484-9337, nassaucountymuseum.org
COST $10 ($4 ages 12 and younger), plus $8 a family materials fee; $2 parking