Peter Max was one of the most brilliant designers of the psychedelic late 1960s. These days he’s best known for his booming business making sloppy expressionist paintings. We called him at his Manhattan studio in advance of his exhibit at Gallery 17 Peck in Providence to chat about his day-glo life.
SUDDENLY, WITHIN TWO YEARS I was on the cover of Life magazine and that same year I was on the Johnny Carson show. 1969. That same year, Ed Sullivan did a one-hour TV special on me. It was wild for me. I couldn’t believe it. I was on every magazine cover. I was excited, overwhelmed. I was worried it was going to go away soon and it never left, it’s still happening today. I’m very, very grateful to this life.
AT A YOUNG AGE I started licensing my name the way Ralph Lauren does. That was extremely, extremely successful. Hundreds of millions in such early days as the late ’60s. Now I’m thinking of doing licensing again because it’s cool to do.
I WAS IN PARIS one day — a friend of mine [Conrad Rooks] took me over there to help him with a movie — and he said, “Let me call the swami and invite him to lunch.” I thought swami was a name like Sammy. I didn’t know. Then suddenly I look across near the elevator. A man comes out all in orange. I was fascinated by the way he looked, but I didn’t know he was coming to see us. I was just watching him as he was probably looking around to see where we sit. I thought he was maybe a Turkish businessman. And then next thing I know he’s leaning over the table and he reaches out his hand and he goes, “Hello.” And Conrad, who by the way is the heir of Avon cosmetics, he said to me, “Peter, this is Swami Satchidananda.” So I figured: Swami Satchidananda, Turkish businessman.
Then I sat opposite him and we talked for a while. All I heard was gold coming out of his mouth, everything was golden, everything was like the greatest things you want to hear about life, about the future, about the present, about living in the heart, being good to others. All those things you learn at yoga. And I said to the swami, thinking he’s a Turkish businessman, I said, “Swami, what do you do?” He said, “I’m a monk from India. I belong to a group of monkhood.” I suddenly said, “Oh my God, he’s an Indian teacher, like a guru.” I flipped out and then I said to Conrad, “Conrad, he’s a monk.” He says, “Yes, Peter, didn’t you know?” I got so fascinated by it. It was beyond belief.
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Peter Max’s art is at Gallery 17 Peck, 303 Atwells Avenue, Providence, from Aug. 19 to 29, 2010. Max is scheduled to meet with visitors on Aug. 28 from 6 to 9 p.m. and on Aug. 29 from 1 to 4 p.m.