LOVE BEADS, tie-dye, incense, black-light posters: the fabulous '60s. And Peter Max, the man who mass-produced the decade.
His career mirrored the era: fast, flashy, into the next big thing before anyone caught up with the last one. At his peak, Max said modestly, "I'm just trying to bring order to the planet."
With the explosion of the youth culture (and market), Max became a graphic arts conglomerate. "It all happened around 1961, I was about 25 then," Max says on the phone from New York. "It was fantastic, a whole new style in everything, music, art, clothes. Beatlemania came in then and I was sort of the visual counterpart to all of that," says Max, who was a realist before developing his famous style, which "had to do with mythology, cosmic energy, astrology and astronomy.
"I guess I did define the ' '60s Style.' It was all over. I created it," says Max, who used to drive the "Psychedelic Car," a black Rolls Royce encrusted with neon-hued decals. "I was inspired by the music of the time, but the art did not come out of that, the music was running on a parallel track to me."
Max's kaleidoscopic colors, mandalas, wizards, billowy clouds and day-glo stars were emblazoned on the minds and wallets of think-young America, popping up on everything imaginable: pillowcases, tea bags, subway posters, stationery and clocks. One of his business "trips" involved a 1970 line of body stockings and panty hose with names like "Thighland" and "Flippy Falling Flower Petals." Max's flower-power phraseology said they were "designed to carry irresistible vibrations of love" and "created to harmonize with any fashion combination the Age of Aquarius may inspire in a young heart."
More than 72 companies distributed Max's designs, selling over $250,000,000 worth of merchandise. "And I was just painting and drawing, and here was this amazing phenomenon going on around me. My style just took hold and all these corporations came along." The corporations, including the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, were quick to snatch Max as a consultant on how to grab the youth market. "I went with it for a while, and then I realized that I was getting trapped in that commercial thing. I never really did consider myself a 'designer,' it just looks that way from the outside. I always just painted."
But his famous style became so popular that "everybody wanted it, so I let it go. The whole thing lasted only 3 1/2 years, that's all. People think it lasted about 10, 15 years because the impression was so strong. While I had all this success with all the products out there, I realized I no longer wanted to have to align my images to the product. So I pulled back, and it took me about a year to wind the company down. Then I just continued painting like it all never happened."
Described in 1968 news clippings as an "LSD alumnus," Max claims he was not involved in drugs, but gives credit for his inspiration to yoga and his personal guru, Swami Satchidananda, whom he brought to this country in 1966. Satchidananda's Integral Yoga Institute is scheduled to break ground today in Buckingham, Va., for a $2-million lotus-flower-shaped temple.
Max, now 44, lives in Manhattan and works at his 18-room studio overlooking the Hudson. He has two children, Adam Cosmo, 17, and Libra Astra, 15, by former wife Liz, a North Carolina beauty queen.
His latest project is saving the Statue of Liberty. "I like doing things with the White House," says Max, who was there a few weeks ago with Chrysler president Lee Iaccoca, who presented President Reagan with one of six Statue of Liberty paintings Max created at the White House last July 4. "We came up with the idea of forming a commission to renovate the Statue for her 100th birthday. It was passed through Congress, and Iaccoca was selected as chairman. We're going to try to raise about $100 million to clean the statue, fix leaks, whatever it needs." Max calls himself "America's own most patriotic artist."