"When I sit down to make a drawing I'm in a blank place," Max says. "I just let it happen. My mind knows instinctually what to do and that's why I'm very innovative in my work. Innovation is one of the key things that mankind have if we choose to go with it."
As one of the lights of abstract expressionism, the 75-year-old graphic artist has created a Masters series of works that pay homage to his beginnings as a realist before moving to modernism like so many other artists before his him.
In the series, Max reimagines works by Vincent Van Gogh, Monet, Pablo Picasso, Renoir and Edgar Degas in his signature style and vibrant palette -- what he calls "moderne."
Born in Berlin as Peter Max Finkelstein, Max's family fled Nazi Germany for China like so many Jews seeking refuge during the Second World War. They left Shanghai after a decade for Israel where Max began his art studies with an Austrian impressionist. He picked up on his art studies a few years later in Paris, attending daily art classes for kids on the Louvre.
At 16, when his family settled in New York, he enrolled in a formal program at The Art Students League of New York (under the instruction of painter Frank J. Reilly, who had previously attended the school as a classmate of Norman Rockwell).
There he relished his lessons on the masters: Monet, Gauguin, DaVinci.
"All these guys started out painting people in their environment but when photography became the thing, who needed an artist to paint them in realism," he says.
When he came out of art school, Max was a realist. But he says nobody was doing realism anymore and so he focused on drawing.
And the Peter Max style emerged.
With paintings on exhibition in hundreds of museums and galleries worldwide, Max and his bright colors have become a part of the fabric of pop culture. He's painted the last seven presidents of the United States and some of the world's most famous celebrities.
"I've painted Cher, I've painted Sharon Stone, I've painted Bon Jovi," he says. "I've painted George Bush, Senior, and one hundred Clinton portraits, twenty across and five high, at his inauguration. He loved it. "
And he's always creating something new. At the moment, he's at work on a series of animation shorts with different themes set to music.
"I'm always being me, Peter Max the artist," he says. "I think, I dream, I'm always in a creative place. This is who I am."
Meet Peter MaxWhat: The pop artist known for his psychedelic style and vibrant color will be making two special appearances in conjunction with his new Masters series, featuring interpretive works of Van Gogh, Monet and others.
Where: Gallery 319, 19720 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills.
Hours: The show runs Feb. 8-17. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Max will be on hand for two receptions: 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, and 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17.
Admission: Free. To RSVP for one of the receptions, call 818-347-0319 or e-mail email@example.com.