Pop art paintings with a psychedelic side: Gallery 72 hosts works from Peter Max

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In a flash of bright colors, awash with plenty of psychedelic swirls, pop artist Peter Max, emerged on the art scene in the ’60s with a style all his own.

The artist’s prolific output of posters, prints and paintings have been on the minds of collectors for decades. Max has crafted portraits of U.S. presidents, Marilyn Monroe and Taylor Swift and even designed the exterior of a Boeing 777. The style is a distinctive wash of paint in bright, almost cosmic colors with a whimsical twist.

The artist plans to accompany some of his works to Omaha for an exhibition at Gallery 72, 1806 Vinton St., that opens Friday. Max’s appearance in Omaha will be his second in three years.

Over the past year, Gallery 72 owner John Rogers has welcomed exhibitions featuring Salvador Dalí and Ron Campbell, an animator who worked on the film “Yellow Submarine.” The gallery has been curating local and national work since it was founded in 1972. But lately, more big name, internationally recognized talent is on view at the 1,800-square-foot space.

Rogers said that even though the Vinton Street corridor is on the rise, the gallery’s location does not bring in a lot of people just wandering through the neighborhood.

“You have to give them a reason to come,” Rogers said.

The reaction to the Dalí show was “tremendous,” Rogers said.

He estimates that during Max’s nine-day show in 2014, 300 to 400 individuals walked through the doors of the gallery. During a typical exhibition, about 150 people would visit in that same amount of time, and that would be considered very good, Rogers said.

Rogers estimates close to 30 people bought work by the pop artist.

Jill Benz, 63, has a huge collection of pictures of old Omaha. So a Max piece of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge fit right in.

“I just thought it was so fun and so fresh,” she said.

Benz has been a longtime fan of Max. When she was in sixth grade in the ’60s, she crafted an art project combining the styles of Andy Warhol and Max. Her teacher told her it wasn’t really art. Benz’s mother, an art enthusiast, had to go in to the school to defend the work.

“That was how different it was at the time when it first came out,” Benz said. “Especially in the Midwest.”

Benz is fond of the colors in Max’s work. She has two other pieces of his, “Sat Guru, Teacher of Light” and “Heart.”

Contemporary pop artist Frank Costanzo cites Peter Max as a big influence. The Ralston creator used work by Andy Warhol and Max as well as vintage posters to create his off-the-wall painting style.

Costanzo, 61, hypothesizes that Max was influenced by rock ‘n’ roll and the psychedelic era, much like he is.

He notes that the face on Peter Max’s iconic Statue of Liberty painting actually resembles Elvis Presley. “I don’t know if that was intentional or not,” he said.

Thousands of paintings down, thousands to go

Peter Max said his psychedelic style comes naturally to him.

It just sort of happened that way, he said.

The colorful and oh-so-loud style has evolved over the years for the famous illustrator and graphic artist. In art school, Max was focused on creating more realistic art. But as he’s developed, he’s crafted his own methods.

“It’s a mixture of style and realism,” he said in a phone interview.

He uses primarily acrylic paint and a palette that includes 50 to 60 colors and plenty of brushes.

“I never know what I’m going to paint and how it’s going to look until I do it and then it just comes out,” Max said.

Max has done re-creations of many skylines, including one of Omaha for this week’s cover of Go. “Each skyline has its own look,” he said.

Portraits make up a major part of his work. Max thinks he has done hundreds of them over the years, including famous faces such as Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney and Bill Clinton. He recently created portraits of the judges for TV’s “The Voice.”

One of his most well-known works is a painting that reads “LOVE” in a blue-stylized font on a psychedelic gradient, spreading from green to pink.

He designed the flier for the 30th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. He has painted the Statue of Liberty annually since the U.S. bicentennial in 1976. And his art has been licensed by more than 70 corporations, including General Electric.

Max was born in Germany and lived in Tibet, China, Israel and France before settling in the U.S. He began to seriously study art in the late ’50s at the Art Students League in Manhattan. But in a 2014 interview with The World-Herald, Max said he began painting when he was only 2 years old.

Max, now 78, lives in New York, where he has fought some family legal battles in recent years. His home is filled with art, his art hangs in galleries around the world, and he sees no end to his painting.

“My whole life is filled with paintings,” he said. “There’s thousands before me, and there’s thousands ahead of me.”

Peter Max exhibit

What: Art exhibit

Where: Gallery 72, 1806 Vinton St.

When: Exhibition runs Friday through April 24. Peter Max will visit the gallery 6 to 9 p.m. April 23 and 1 to 4 p.m. April 24. RSVPs are required for Max visits. Contact 866-900-6699 or to make a reservation.

A special reception will be held for Film Streams Patrons and Friends, 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday. A portion of proceeds from any artwork purchased will be donated to Film Streams. To attend, RSVP to

The gallery will be open everyday through the duration of the exhibition 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.

Info: or 402-496-4797