Peter Max- A Pop Culture Icon

An artist full of life and color. Peter Max is best known through his bold, vibrant and uplifting paintings. His paintings and designs encompass Pop Art and Neo Expressionism. These paintings helped deem him one of the most famous living Pop culture icons. Max took on anything from postage stamps to entire cruise ships and planes to presidents.

Max was born in 1937 in Berlin, Germany. However, between the years of 1937-1953 he was raised in Shanghai, Paris, and Israel. Ultimately, him and his family emigrated to Brooklyn, NY. In Israel during 1948, his parents sent him with a Viennese Fauve Expressionist to study painting and colorization. Three years later, Max was introduced to astronomy where he grew to become fascinated with the cosmos.  One can evidentially see his influence and love for the cosmos in his paintings, for he chose to stay true to both art and astronomy. Later, his family was on the way to America in 1953, but they made a small stop of 6 months in Paris. Here is where Max began to appreciate art, for he took classes at the Louvre museum. Nonetheless, this was not what set off his creative flow.

They arrived in New York City and Max was taken aback by the billboards, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge. He began his formal studies and training in 1956 at the Art Students League on New York and continued at the School of Visual Arts in New York, NY because of his interest in avant-garde. In 1962, Max and a good friend from school, Tom Daly, established a small Manhattan arts studio. Don Rubbo later joined their team and collectively they won numerous awards for their book covers and graphic designs. Max later meets a yoga master, Swami Satchidananda, that affected him deeply. “The Swami and yoga taught me a whole new way to draw,” says Max. “It empowered me to feel the cosmic consciousness within, and to allow that to flow out of me into my art” (Peter Max Biography).  The turning point in Max’s career that helped him emit his artistic influence was when he captured and was able to immortalize the Summer of Love.

In 1967, Max’s Be In poster inspired thousands of “hippies” to gather in New York City’s Central Park and that was it, Max became a Pop culture icon. He appeared on several tv shows, on the cover of Life, and his own museums followed. People on the streets would constantly recognize who he was and would constinetly call after him. Ultimately, in 1971, he withdrew from the public eye.

In 1974, he was commissioned to create the first environmental U.S. postage stamp where he uses the line, “Preserve the Environment.” Two years later he is asked to create 235 “Welcome to America” border murals and is then welcomed to a White House celebration with President Carter. After another White House celebration, with President Ford, Max returns to NYC and is inspired. He begun a tradition that he still continues today to paint the Statue of Liberty annually for July 4th. Max is invited yet again to the White House but by President Reagan. He painted six eight-foot tall paintings of the Statue of Liberty at the White House Rose Garden. Ultimately, Max sparked the renovation for the Statue of Liberty, and when it was unveiled, Max was invited as a guest of honor. In total Max has painted six U.S. presidents and has his artworks on display at various U.S. embassies.

To reiterate the importance Max had on the Summer of Love, he was called to create a fold out cover for People magazine in 1987 for the 20th anniversary of the movement. He also commemorated the 20thanniversary of Woodstock by creating the world’s largest rock and roll stage for the Moscow Music and Peace Festival. If that was not enough, between these commemorations, Max opens a grand 40,000- square-foot studio/atelier adjacent to Lincoln Center in Manhattan. Max was also selected to receive a section of the Berlin Wall where he chiseled out and painted a peace dove and after finishing it he set it atop of the wall to symbolically give it freedom. On this grand scale, Continental Airlines unveiled its new Boeing 777 super jet that Max had painted. But the skies were not the only thing he painted. Norwegian Cruise Lines commissioned Max to paint the hull of their largest cruise ship —the Breakaway ship. Max has created endless milestones and has been recognized by many, including the NFL, NHL, soccer’s World Cup USA, NASCAR and many more.

Peter Max is as vibrant as his paintings. He is an inspiration for graphic designers and truly anyone. It is amazing to hear that he is still painting at 82 years old and still maintains a bright smile. In an interview by AARP Max talks of what it is like for him to paint. He goes on to describe that he listens to music from the 60s while he paints and that when he picks up the brush, he does not even know what color he is going to dip into. Once he begins, he lets the colors take over. As soon as one color is spread across, he instinctively knows what comes next and how to execute the brush’s movement. He created a defining artistic style that one can still see today whether it be through Instagram, editing, advertisements, etc. it is prevailing.

In addition to impacting the world of graphic design, he left an everlasting impact on the world and everyone he met. He traveled all over and continues to do so to art galleries and to meet fans, almost every weekend. Even though he has pulled out from the spotlight, whenever he feels it necessary, he shines a little light unto the world like how he did after September 11. He created posters and portraits of all 356 firefighters who lost their lives during the attack. Peter Max is an undeniable figure in graphic design, and it would be an offense to not know his name.


Love, Robert. “Peter Max: 50 Years of Color.” AARP, 26 July 2017,

“Peter Max.” Peter Max Biography – Peter Max on Artnet,

“Peter Max Biography.” Peter Max Store,