[This, From 2010.]
You Don't Know Whether To Laugh at The Folly Of The Rich,
Or Weep At Level Of Neglect. Or Both.
(Screencapture: NYT Online, 2/13/10; Photo: Tony Cenicola)
Peter Max was one hip guy, once upon a time. I actually thought he was dead, but, as it turns out, he's not.
Peter Max At An Exhibition Of New Work, 2008
A charmed player in the Lottery of life in some ways, though: Born Max Finkelstein in Berlin, he and his family were able to escape in 1938 (if they hadn't -- well, let's say Yellow Submarine would have had a greatly different appearance). They fled to Shanghai, China, and in 1948, to Israel. Eventually his family moved to the United States, and young Max started a career as a graphic artist -- a very, very successful career.
Max's work produced classic Pop-Art images -- vibrant, primary colors; mirror-image split scenes; graceful gradients of complimentary tones as background to high-contrast shillouettes.
Max's art helped to visually define the Sixties (more than any of Warhol's copy-and-paint-over repetitious imagery), and even people born long after recognize what historical period Max's work represents -- like Klimt's paintings help define fin de siècle Vienna and European culture before World War One; or the work of Monet defining Impressionism; or Grant Wood's American Gothic image creating an icon for a quintessential America.
Two Vic Moscoso Versions Of Left Coast Psychedelic Pop: 1966-67
His art for the animated film Yellow Submarine became synonymous with the Beatles, with sitar music, the Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper albums; Twiggy; Carnaby street fashions; Peter and Gordon and The Who; John Steed and Emma Peel (!) in The Avengers; Patrick McGoohan shouting, "I am not a number; I am a free man!"; The Rolling Stones, and the rest of the British invasion.
Max's work was trans-Atlantic, New York art world Psychedelica -- it was new, but echoed roots in Art Noveau and packaging design. It was sophisticated but commercial -- as opposed to the grittier and more experimental Left-Coast, Haight-Ashbury, Acid Test, Avalon and Fillmore posters; Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead; Sproul Plaza sit-in, Whiskey-A-Go-Go, and Rolling Stone sort of psychedelic culture.
Needless to say, when you produce nearly archetypal, iconic modern images, and you're halfway intelligent about the business side of art, you can do well: Peter's loaded. And he knew that he wasn't only creating art, but a Brand: None of his reproduced work from the 60's and 70's appears without his Peter Max© logo.
As a Creative Guy™, I support that: You Go, Peter.
(Max's work inspired other graphic artists, font creators, clothing designers; I've always believed Moebius (aka Jean Giraud), one of the finest illustrators to come out of the Sixties and Seventies, was heavily influenced by Max's art.)
Temps - Jean Giraud ('Moebius')
However, being a Creative Guy™ doesn't exempt Max from acting like a common, garden-variety rich guy. The New York Times recently carried a story about a collection of thirty-six Corvettes -- many of them classic rarities -- which Max had purchased in a block from another wealthy collector in 1990.
Max had intended to paint the cars and, probably, sell them -- a classic 1964 'Vette (worth a good bit all by itself) would have had its value, uh, enhanced by an original Peter Max-designed paint job. And for Max, it would probably be a hoot 'n a half to apply his design concepts to the shapes of a vehicle -- something he had already done with his Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud in the 1970's.
Max's Painted Rolls, Parked In Front Of An L.A. Gallery, 2007
The Corvette was the creation of Harvey Earl, a design engineer for the Chevrolet division of General Motors, and named for a fast, maneuverable naval warship. It debuted in 1953, and (depending upon whom you talk to) either is still produced today, or lost its classic status to overproduction and design changes in the late 60's.
I'm not a car guy (though I've had a Guy's standard fantasy of buying a junked unusual or neglected brand or model, and restoring it). But like Max's art, for me the Corvette is also part of what defined the Sixties -- Route 66; the Beach Boys; the West Coast, Sandra Dee - Endless Summer; days at El Capitan, or Refugio Beach; El Cajon or Venice. Santa Barbara, and State Street on a Summer night, or the Sunset Strip in L.A., cruising with the top down while the push-button radio plays I got sunshine / On a cloudy day...
George Maharis And Martin Milner In Route 66:
And They Walked Off / To Look For America
Max's Corvettes went into a storage garage in Brooklyn; Max moved on to other things, and the Corvettes sat... for twenty years -- apparently without cleaning, or being set up on blocks, or having their engines and drive trains protected from atmospheric effects. Convertibles were left open; cats apparently nested in some (you can see fresh paw-prints, and older ones under layers of dirt, in the photos) and the upholstery suffered. The paint jobs of each car, some of them original to the vehicles, slowly oxidized and bonded with layers of grime. Tires deflated, and the cars settled to rest on their rims.
The Rarest: A 1953 Corvette, It's First Year Of Production,
And One Of Only 300 Manufactured... Nice Goin', Peter.
(Photo: Tony Cenicola, New York Times Online)
Seeing the photographs of these cars in such obvious state of neglect was... well, saddening. For Max, they were like paper or canvas; something to stretch a vision upon. But they're also a kind of art on their own. For me, and others, they're iconic in other ways -- among other things, a symbol of time passing, that people in my crowd (and me, personally) are aging, now; and one way or another how much the past is present in our memories.
(Photo: Tony Cenicola, New York Times Online)
Recently, the Times reported, Max moved the cars from the Brooklyn garage to a secured parking area in upper Manhattan, as he "considers a new idea to clean them up and repaint them". I think they belong with others who may have the attention span of a larger mammal, and financial wherewithal to restore and properly garage these automobiles.
(Screencapture: NYT Online, 2/13/10; Photo: Jenna Stern)
It may be foolish to think of caring for these cars as a way of respecting our collective national past, and our own personal connections to memory -- but, I'm only a dog, and no one listens to me.