Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Defining an Era

Peter Max is a multi-dimensional artist who became famous in the 1960s and early 70s for his pop artist style and posters that converge to the mass media psychedelic image of this era. He was born in 1937 in Berlin where he has said to have experienced a “magical” childhood through traveling and taking interest in things such as astronomy and the environment. Peter Max created a visual language to interpret the culture, style, and meaning of the psychedelic art movement and era of the 1960s and early 70s.
Max ’s work became popular with the general public because it encompasses a more cheerful and less threatening side then his parallels. Heinz Edelmann, born in 1934 and also having an artistic impression on the 60’s era, was very famous for his poster work. The work Edelmann did for the Beatle’s album, “The Yellow Submarine” is often given credit to Peter Max. Edelmann is one of the artists whose work is portrayed and often alluded to through Max’s pieces.

Although, Max does convey a brighter tone and also dilutes his pieces through taking out many of the details that perhaps Edelmann would have included. Also, many find it strange that Max is given much of the credit for creating this psychedelic movement, when really artists such as Stanley Mouse and Rick Griffin acted much more as innovators for this time. Stanley Mouse is an American artist born in the 1940’s and best known for creating the style and format of Psychedelic art designs for 1960s rock posters. His most popular piece is the Grateful Dead album cover.

Mouse, once defined psychedelic in an interview as, “Psychedelic was super normal to me- just everything intense. The reality took on a super reality. It was never paisley patterns. Nature is more psychedelic than anything created by man.” Mouse also revolutionized lettering in the 60’s by using it as a real art form. He did this by breaking the laws of lettering, experimenting with it. In 1967, Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse, Victor Moscoso, and Wes Wilson (known as the “Big Five” of psychedlia) founded the Berkeley-Bonapparte distribution agency to pr oduce and sell psychedelic poster art. Perhaps, Peter Max owes his success not to his talents in art, but to his competence in being a businessman. Many designers find it amusing that Peter Max usually always has his work sponsored by a big corporate business group, but this seems to work in getting Max the publicity that makes him famous.
In 1968, Peter Max created this poster, one of the first that granted him the fame he holds today. It’s use of bright color combinations, cosmic shapes, light, and bold line work are all characteristics that Max used in creating “his” style. In comparing it to the posters done by the “Big Five” it becomes evident that Max chose more of the cheerful route. He is often criticized for this because it is observed that he is giving more focus to the more commercial view of the 1960’s, for example the “hippies” who played a much smaller role in the 1960s than what the media has portrays today. When one first views the poster, the faces and detail all blend together to create this colorful design, but as one gets closer all of the faces start to pop out. “2000 Light Years” embraces the feeling of playful, free movement, which are characteristics that were aimed at by most psychedelic artists.

In Purvis’ book, “Graphic Design History: 20th Century” he describes the movement of these artists as, “Their design approach, at times celebrating the antiestablishment subculture, was later broadly labeled by the media as, ‘psychedelic’.” In looking at the art pieces form this time, it is important to understand the culture and ideas behind the 1960s. This was a time of youth, as 70 million children from the baby boom were becoming teenagers and young adults. The conservative ways of thinking in the fifties quickly changed to more revolutionary ideas and the young people were ready for change. Art in the 60’s was influenced by the desire to move into the modern age or future. Also, the hippie culture was known for being supporters in the freedom and practice of drugs, rock music, mystic religions, sexual liberation, and the opposition of violence. Many of the young people refused to follow the mainstream Protestant Religion and found comfort in eastern religions, such as Transcendental Meditation. Transcendental Meditation was founded by the eminent Maharishi Mehesh Yogi. It is believed that everyone holds “rich, unbounded field of creativity, energy, and intelligence” and through Transcendental Meditation one learns to draw these qualities from within and use them to grow in health, happiness, and a more successful life. Max also practiced this and claims that through his yoga, meditation, and spiritual teachings of the east, he developed a spontaneous creative urge to acquire the “cosmic style” that he is known to possess. In “2000 Light Years”, it was easy for the people from the 1960’s period to relate and reflect upon.
Violence and fighting were well known during the 1960s with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and the civil rights movement. This caused many people at this time to be strong peace advocates—often practiced and petitioned by protests, which were very popular at this time. Also, during the 1960s, the surgeon general determined smoking as a health hazard causing many people to start paying more attention to their health. Peter Max acts as an advocate for peace in working with clients who support and are causes for the morals and values in which he believes. This allows him to not only have the chance to impact and educate the world, but also to be more successful in his work by having a personal interest in what he is trying to interpret visually. Max has worked on several pieces to raise awareness of the environment and in 1992 was commissioned to create a series of United Nations postage stamps for the Earth Summit.

As a passionate environmentalist since the 60s, he finds it very rewarding to express his “globalist vision and concerns for a healthy planet through his art”. He was so inspired in making this series of stamps that he decided to apply the idea in order to make a poster for Earth Day 1992. It is titled “Make Every day Earth Day”. Through this poster he wanted to celebrate having a healthy living planet and possibly by taking more of a positive approach rather than negative, he believed to leave more of an inspirational impression on his audience.
Like many of these artists, Peter Max found his inspiration in music. During the rock n’ roll period of the 1960s a festival, known as the Woodstock Festival was founded. It was a time when 32 of the best-known musicians of that time came together to perform. It is legendary and is often referred to as “one of the greatest moments in music history”. Peter Max was commissioned by his friend, Michael Lang (Woodstock Producer) in 1989 to do a poster for the events 20th anniversary. In Peter Max having spent the past 30 years in creating 1960’s artwork and becoming an iconic symbol for this era, it allowed him to be commissioned for such projects as Woodstock.

This way not only was the music and festival acting as a time machine to send the audience back to the future, but the viewers could also relate to Peter Max as the artist from this time. He created a large (500 ft x 80 ft) backdrop for the stage. He combined his well-known style of cosmic colors and legendary images, such as consultations and rays of light, to reflect the work he had done from the 60s while still celebrating the freedom and excitement of the festival. This was not the last time Peter was commissioned to do a poster for Woodstock.

In 2007, he created another vibrant poster for Woodstock, but this time for the Woodstock Film Festival. When discussing this new poster design, Peter is quoted as saying, “Woodstock is synonymous with creative energy, rock-n-roll and free spirits. This tradition continues with the Woodstock film festival and all of the wonderful, independent film makers it is featuring and supporting.”
In redesigning a menu based on Peter Max’s designs and beliefs, the goal was to combine both the style and beliefs of Max along with mine. In order to gain better knowledge of where Max drew inspiration I studied the history of the 1960’s.

Also, I came up with many of the designs through looking at doodles I had come up with in the past, which inevitably held my personal style. I also am an advocate of giving one’s support for environmental causes. Therefore, I made my menu out of recyclable, biodegradable material, which is shown through the symbol on the back cover. I also made everything on the menu, vegetarian to show the support Peter and I share for animal rights. Along with doing this, I wanted to stray away from the common book menu layout, I felt as though Peter would not stick with this basic format and rather take it as a chance to embed his style in the project in an even larger extent. I liked the idea of playing with illusion through two panels pulling out from inside. I wanted the motion of pulling out the panels to be very easy and fluid, otherwise it would not fit with the style. Using inspiration from an era I have not experienced was ¬a very big challenge, but pushed me to come up with designs I would not have come up with without this exercise and allowed me to become very familiar with other art pieces from this time. The most important thing in creating my menu design was remembering the quote by Max when describing his creative process, “In the middle of creating something brand new, I love the surprise. My main discipline is to have no idea, to see what happens, letting it happen.” I followed this religiously, withholding from ever using the delete button and allowing my work to create itself.
Peter Max’s talents in art and also through being a businessman and self-promoter have aloud him to develop a visual language of the 1960’s era that the public finds very appeasing. Through using these talents to support the causes in which he believes not only attracts a bigger audience to his work, but also works with defining the era in showing that he also believes in many of the common beliefs of that time—he is one of them.


Work Cited
Janes-Brown Liz. “Inspiration to the Max”. The Maui News. 2 April 2006.

Parker, Charles. “Peter Max”. Lines and Colors. 10 September 2007. <>

Stephenson, Tim. “A Brief Biography of Rick Griffin” 28 March 2008. <>

Cerio, Steven. Interview with Stanley Mouse. 29 March 2008. <>

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