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Fine Arts Center pulls off triple threat with Peter Max

click to enlarge Flag with Hearts by Peter Max.
  • Flag with Hearts by Peter Max.

Peter Max's distinctive, simple and cheerful imagery has back-dropped our lives. Max isn't an artist, but a brand. His company, PeterMax.com, boasts more than 100 employees who expand, market and protect the brand. According to Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center President Michael De Marsche, the 68-year-old Max rises at 6 a.m., tends to business until 5 p.m., makes art until 2 a.m., sleeps for four hours ... then starts again.

The result of that fierce energy is amply displayed in the FAC's retrospective exhibition of his work, The Creative World of Peter Max, which opened Feb. 11 and runs through April 23. Beginning with figurative work from his days as an art student in 1950s New York, and ending with today's fluid, gestural, semi-abstract works, it's a fascinating window into the artistic evolution of one of the most successful artists of our time.

Upon graduating school, Max became a graphic designer, inspired by comic books, science fiction and astronomy. According to his bio, he arrived at his "Cosmic '60s" style after meeting with self-professed Integral Yoga founder Sri Swami Satchidananda, who introduced Max to meditation and Eastern spirituality, releasing his "spontaneous creative urge."

Says De Marsche, with an affectionate smile, "I think Peter never quite left 1967 and the Summer of Love. He's always optimistic, never says a bad word about anybody, and his work reflects that spirit."

Indeed, Max embodies everything sweet and light-filled from those turbulent times. His art recalls the Beatles at Shea Stadium, girls with flowers in their hair, Sonny and Cher. Absent are the dark '60s: Vietnam, riots, assassinations, the Hell's Angels at Altamont.

But darkness came to Max when the Twin Towers fell. He honored the 356 fallen firefighters by painting two portraits of each one, giving one to the victims' families and retaining one for himself, all of which are displayed for the first time in this exhibition.

The FAC's last two shows (featuring works of Dale Chihuly and Andy Warhol) were successful, and De Marsche expects the Max exhibit to be equally popular. Like Max, Chihuly and Andy Warhol became not so much artists as cultural phenomena, self-created artists of no previously recognized artistic tradition.

"Peter's art came from graphic design, and Warhol was a set designer he created store windows and Dale [Chihuly] was just a glassblower," De Marsche notes.

All three became wildly renowned, enormously popular and how American rich. Thanks to them, the FAC's future, which a couple of years ago seemed uncertain, now appears expansive. De Marsche's solution to exhibit some of the most celebrated artists of our time and market them furiously is, in retrospect, blindingly obvious.

It doesn't hurt that Max has been intimately and personally involved in this, his first major retrospective in 35 years. Like any great marketer, he was in attendance on opening night, counting the house. capsule

The Creative World of Peter Max

Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.

Through April 23

Tickets: $5-$10; call 634-5581 or visit csfinearts.org.

  • Fine Arts Center pulls off triple threat with Peter Max

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