After a single glance, one does not soon forget the bold colors, brushstrokes, and compositions of artist Peter Max. For decades, his artistic expressions have overflowed his gallery and museum exhibitions to shape pop culture—from an environmental U.S. postage stamp to the fuselage of a Continental Airlines plane to the hull of a giant Norwegian Lines cruise ship.
But there’s more going on here than Peter’s unique commissions. If you look carefully across Peter Max’s portfolio—and in some cases, it’s in your face—you will discover his artful depictions of cosmic objects and phenomena, with his iconic 1960s-clad characters flying or effortlessly leaping across planets, stars, and galaxies. When I finally met Peter at an event hosted by the Hayden Planetarium, I was delighted to learn that the subject of space was not just an adornment to his art, but a passion as great as my own.
We both have been fascinated by space since early childhood, and I was enchanted by Peter’s recounted discoveries of space as a young boy growing up in China, and as a teenager in Israel, where he actually attended an evening course in on the universe at the Technion Institute in Haifa.
In modern times, a scientist can communicate with the public via books, radio interviews, television documentaries, and of course the internet. But one cannot assert that the messages have been absorbed into the hearts and minds of the public until artists embrace the themes. Only then has science entered culture—having become the artist’s muse.
Shortly after we first met, Peter invited me to his studio, not far from Planetarium itself. Over lunch at his office we got lost in a two-hour emotionally charged conversation about the marvels of our universe. Peter showed me the posters he created for NASA and the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, as well as his portraits of astronauts John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin, and Anousha Ansari, the first private female space explorer. This was the first of many such meetings we’ve had and I look forward to having many more.
We’re both convinced that America can and should lead the way in space exploration, but in the end, the entire world must embrace the adventure—solutions to the sustainability of planet Earth and its residents surely await us somewhere in the universe. The urge to discover is surely imprinted in our DNA, leaving one to ask whether a world in which no one explores is, itself, an abomination of our biological directive.
I only get to talk about this stuff. But Peter gets to capture the soul of the cosmos on canvas and poster board. You may now understand why the title for his memoir can be none other than “The Universe of Peter Max.”