This review is very different from how it might have been otherwise, because before sitting down to write it I spent a lot of time imagining what our lives might look like were we able to draw on all the synchronicities of life the way artist Peter Max clearly has. The more I looked at his work after listening to him speak, the more apparent this became to me. It was almost as if the alchemist had handed me the elixir of life, and I had but to drop it into my pocket for safekeeping.Quite literally, I am drawn into a very small painting called “Sage with Stick and Tree”. After the talk it seems particularly poignant. Perfect. Where the other images are bold and brawny in some cases, it pulls at the heart of things, the heart of the matter. Like “The Wall”. Like the nephew I see riding on the back of an angel in “The Highest Mountain”. I don’t go for a walk, although I’d thought I might, because I understand for this post I need to go within before going without. “Without Boarders” … “The White House” … “Liberty”: There’s some light out yet, but for now, I need to finish this. As if the angels have finally arrived, disguised as muses, thank you.
As a matter of synchronicity, I arrived just before he spoke, first about how eight commissioned Gorbachevs became 10 and then 40. How when they were unveiled in Russia, the man himself spent some 20 to 30 minutes talking to Max before squatting in front of the work and doing a Russian dance. How Mikhail’s wife said something to him in Russian that Max could only guess might have been, “Don’t make a fool of yourself,” before he stopped, turned, and asked, “How come 40?”.…. Gorby. Now, there’s 44 Obamas, and Reagan did his own brush stroke on one of the “tall Liberties” at the White House.
Max spoke of being approached by a young artist there, who was doing some restoration work on the Statue of Liberty. The young man acknowledged that the outside looked great, but that the statue was rusting on the inside and would one day come down “like a stack of cards,” which got Max thinking about whom he knew who might be able to help, which ultimately led him through a friend to the home of Lee Iacocca.
The friend, whom he hadn’t talked to in five years, told him, “He’s the guy.” He worked for Iacocca every Tuesday and Thursday on an American made line of cars, and Iaccoca’s secretary just wanted to know if Max could be there the next day and not a minute late. So in two or three weeks and several phone calls later, the project to restore Lady Liberty had a $300 million budget.
Max was there for the unveiling and says he cried four or five times, although he’s not American by birth. Then through a chance meeting with Bon Jovi and his assistant, in Russia no less, the idea to paint a jumbo jet later materialized. The jet has flown around the world and is still in operation. His latest project is a billion dollar Norwegian Cruise Ship, only 20 blocks from his present day studio—speaking of being at the right place at the right time.
But more than this, it’s his heart that speaks to us in volumes. Some of the titles give it away: “Peace”, “Better World”, “Cherry Blossoms”. Yes, the heart of the artist is decidedly in the details.