Pretty much everyone of a certain age shouts Glove! whenever they see a Blue Meanie, and pretty much everyone of a certain age knows what a Blue Meanie is... such is the enduring power of Peter Max, the German-born graphic artist and illustrator who exploded on to the scene with The Beatles and Yellow Submarine. Part cartoon, part nightmare, the undeniable Sixties vibe still has the power to startle after so many decades. I grew up surrounded by these images on posters, in adverts, in my parents' friends' apartments, and like all keen artists squirrelled them away in my subconscious for later revival.
As I've said many, many times before, it took me a long time to pluck up the courage to even say I was an artist let alone be one, and I followed a circuitous route through writing and graphic design before I hit that day. So, I'm attracted to highly graphic images and what I'd call flat art. There's just something about Peter Max's designs that grab my attention and make me want to screen print - all those wonderful planes of stencil-like colour and that glorious saturation. The Sixties definitely loom large in my legend, put it that way, and psychedelia is top of my tree. So, here are five amazing reasons why I love Peter Max:
- Psychedelic: There's a definite acid head frenzy going on here, whether actual or conjured, with clashing fluorescents, undulating curls and swirls and the dreamlike state.
- Eerie: the undulating backgrounds of swirls and rays, the marshmallow puffiness of people and animals, the blinding flashes of clashing colours - this is the stuff of very bad dreams and very bad trips both with a sweet sugar coating of chocolate and sprinkles. Are you awake or asleep? High or sober?
- Tension: somewhere between a cartoon and a nightmare, there is a wonderful tension in the artwork that is both appealing and terrifying, rather like the poisonous liquid shapes of art nouveau - a dangerous beauty.
- Enduring: you can see echoes of Peter's work today in graphics, interiors and children's cartoons with an enduring legacy of bombastic colour and bold shape over a slightly scary undertone.
- Reduction: So much information and detail is conveyed by so few lines. The Beatles are pretty much solid blocks of colour, but you instantly know which Beatle is which. That's genius.
I'm looking at one of my pieces as I write this post, and I can see his influence in the flat planes of colour and the stark graphic quality of the collaged images I chose - there are more influences in there, but that's another post or several! You can see a glimmer of where I get my love for fluoro paints as well... You can pick up original pieces from him here and there - he did a lot of commercial work like posters, scarves and household goods. (Oh, and the above image is Love - © Peter Max.)