Cleveland Magazine: Pop Heart

Reprinted from Cleveland Magazine

His distinctive cosmic and color-splashed creations have adorned everything from a jumbo jet to a stock car to a cruise ship, but Peter Max’s gift to Beachwood is a simple one — a painting of the beech tree that gives the city its name. In his eyes, the green and yellow leaves are gobs of soft circles dotting a lush tree against a swirly bright red and purple sky.

“In the last 20 to 30 years, media has exploded,” says Max from his New York City studio. “And I exploded with it.”

The 77-year-old prince of pop art, whose work has appeared in more than 2,000 museums, helps Beachwood mark its centennial by bringing his Peter Max: A Retrospective 1960-2015 to the Beachwood Community Center from Oct. 16 to 25. With Max appearing in person Oct. 24 and 25, the exhibit features more than 100 works available to the public.

See his adored Love and Cosmic Runner paintings as well as a psychedelic Cleveland Browns helmet. Max returns to Beachwood after helping to open the community center in 2006 and receiving the city key from Mayor Merle Gorden.

“I’m still inspired every day, drawing and painting from morning to night,” he says.

Born in Berlin and raised in China, Max connects with hippies and ad executives alike.

“As a boy, I always loved colors,” he says. “Then I learned about drawing and composition. It got bigger, better and more fantastic.”

By 1969, Max was a cultural icon, having appeared on the cover of Life while sharing stages with Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan. He has painted for six U.S. presidents and has been the official artist of the Grammys and Super Bowl.

“It was mind-boggling,” he says.

Max’s muses have included sports, politics and, above all, rock ‘n’ roll. He painted 10-foot guitars for GuitarMania at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 2002 and created the program cover artwork for April’s induction ceremonies. “It’s a style of music I love,” he says. “I used to have a DJ in my studio all the time. I was friends with Jimi Hendrix before he was known. Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Beatles, the Stones.”

And leave it to Max to completely revamp a Browns helmet — the original design is considered one of the most conservative in the NFL.

“I got carried away with that one,” he jokes.

Still relevant in a changing art world, Max maintains the sense of wonder that marks his work. “I’m not looking for any kind of legacy,” he says. “Drawing and painting keeps me young and active. I feel like a teenager.”