Peter Max's pop life

By GREG COOK  |  August 18, 2010

I WAS COMPLETELY REALIST like John Singer Sargent. And then because I had this huge interest in astronomy, I would sketch on the side astronomical images and people that fly around in space and spaceships. And that became a style that I loved. And everybody that saw it said, "Peter, we've never seen this. This is fantastic." So I started doing more and more and more. Then I became famous for that style. And the realism kind of faded away. I still have some that I've done and I'm proud that I was able to do such realism. I was able to paint like da Vinci, like [Norman] Rockwell.

SUDDENLY, WITHIN TWO YEARS I was on the cover of Life magazine and that same year I was on the Johnny Carson show. 1969. That same year, Ed Sullivan did a one-hour TV special on me. It was wild for me. I couldn't believe it. I was on every magazine cover. I was excited, overwhelmed. I was worried it was going to go away soon and it never left, it's still happening today. I'm very, very grateful to this life.

AT A YOUNG AGE I started licensing my name the way Ralph Lauren does. That was extremely, extremely successful. Hundreds of millions in such early days as the late '60s. Now I'm thinking of doing licensing again because it's cool to do.

I WAS IN PARIS one day — a friend of mine [Conrad Rooks] took me over there to help him with a movie — and he said, "Let me call the swami and invite him to lunch." I thought swami was a name like Sammy. I didn't know. Then suddenly I look across near the elevator. A man comes out all in orange. I was fascinated by the way he looked, but I didn't know he was coming to see us. I was just watching him as he was probably looking around to see where we sit. I thought he was maybe a Turkish businessman. And then next thing I know he's leaning over the table and he reaches out his hand and he goes, "Hello." And Conrad, who by the way is the heir of Avon cosmetics, he said to me, "Peter, this is Swami Satchidananda." So I figured: Swami Satchidananda, Turkish businessman.

Then I sat opposite him and we talked for a while. All I heard was gold coming out of his mouth, everything was golden, everything was like the greatest things you want to hear about life, about the future, about the present, about living in the heart, being good to others. All those things you learn at yoga. And I said to the swami, thinking he's a Turkish businessman, I said, "Swami, what do you do?" He said, "I'm a monk from India. I belong to a group of monkhood." I suddenly said, "Oh my God, he's an Indian teacher, like a guru." I flipped out and then I said to Conrad, "Conrad, he's a monk." He says, "Yes, Peter, didn't you know?" I got so fascinated by it. It was beyond belief.

Max_HeartSeries2009_main
"A LITTLE BEBOP" "Heart Series 2009."
ALL IMAGES © PETER MAX 2010

After four days of being near him, nearly every minute of the day I had to be near him, touching him, near his shoulder, watching him walk, watching him talk, listening to every word he said, with all that golden stuff coming out of him. Then I spoke to myself, "Boy, would my friends in New York love him." Because back then we were all hippies, we were all smoking pot, we were all doing acid, we were doing everything. This was when I was like 26, 27, in 1966. I brought him to America. And we became vegetarian, never touched anything in my life, not even a glass of wine, nothing, never touched anything else ever, ever again. I just wanted to be yoga, vegetarian, fruitarian, fruits, and breathing, meditation, that's all I wanted to do. I wanted to be like him.

I USED TO KNOW ANDY [Warhol] very well. We were good buddies. This was in the late '60s and '70s. We would go antiquing together. We'd buy antiques, cookie jars. We'd meet at different antique places and then he would buy a bag full of stuff and I would buy a bag full of stuff. Both had the same passion. Everything he got I wanted and everything I got he wanted. You know how it's always greener on the other side of the fence. That's exactly what always happened.

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