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Pop Culture Icon Peter Max On Creativity And Loving The Process

The celebrated artist’s guidelines for keeping his creativity and imagination sharp have applications for any creative pursuit.

Artist Peter Max has carved a half-century career of bold playful images, vibrant colors, and psychedelic shapes—a cheerful, energetic style that’s drawn a celebrity following and resonates as much today as when he started his career in the ’60s.

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A spry 77, the Manhattan-based painter and graphic artist often pops up at galleries around the country for visits and showings. His next appearance and retrospective is slated for March 7 and 8 at Gallery 319 in Los Angeles suburb, Woodland Hills—before he heads to cities in Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

Peter Max in his studio.Photo by Brad Trent

Given his longevity, what advice does an architect of ’60s psychedelic pop art have for today’s burgeoning artists and entrepreneurs?

Hone your imagination

“Everyone has a good imagination if you train to use it. I went to a great art school, the Arts Students League of New York, to train and acquire skills. I studied drawing, painting, and color with a wonderful teacher, Frank Reilly, who attended school with Norman Rockwell.”

Practice

“You’ve got to develop skills, which comes from constantly practicing, developing your skills, and seeing how people before you have solved similar creative problems.”

Peter Max partnered with Taylor Swift for a portrait series.

Create an inspirational workspace

“When I get in front of a blank canvas, I have no idea what I want to do. I have a big bin containing 77 colors of acrylic paint covered by a huge plastic top. I have a big beautiful studio where I paint, with a great sound system, and an assistant who also DJs sometimes. I’m in a good mood, with nice colors, and stuff comes out. I stand in front of the canvas, with the music playing, and start putting colors on it. I just enjoy the moment, and half the time I surprise myself.”

Enjoy the process

“I love the time I spend watching what comes out. The end result happens when the end comes. The idea is to enjoy the process and be patient doing it.”

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Keep challenging yourself

“I’m talking to people in Hollywood about doing animated feature films. Today, animation is so easy to do [thanks to technology]. I’ve come up with some ideas for stories, and have a writer associate who writes the scripts.”

About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.

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