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Peter Max at the Malton Gallery

Cosmic pop artist (and cow savior) brings his work to Cincinnati

RODNEY WILSON | CIN WEEKLY CONTRIBUTOR

Peter Max is an artist of inestimable standing in the history of recent American art. A painter with pop icon standing since the late '60s, Max has created portraits of numerous celebrities and world leaders and artwork for international events such as the Grammys and the Super Bowl. His paintings can be seen in more than 100 museums and galleries across the globe, not to mention on a Boeing 777 jet used by Continental Airlines.

In Cincinnati, however, Max's greatest legacy is a heifer named Cindy Woo.

In 2002, the cow in question jumped a 6-foot fence at Ken Meyer Meats and captured the local media's attention for 10 full days as she wandered in the woods, Moo-IA from her predestined trip to the slaughterhouse. Upon her detainment, the cow's newfound celebrity brought her help from an unlikely source: Peter Max, internationally-acclaimed painter and, as it turns out, advocate of bovines with over-oped survival skills. Max, along with the help of his longtime friend and Cincinnati-based lawyer, Bob Siegel, saved the cow from the dinner table and secured her a long life at the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y.

 STARSTRUCK
The European-born painter was raised in China, where he first encountered art through his nanny, Ana, a 13-year-old who enjoyed drawing and painting and who shared art supplies with Max during their days together.

Though Max's artistic self was awoken before his 10th birthday, it wasn't something that he ever thought to factor into his career plans. "There were no role models for me growing up - I didn't know that art was something that somebody could do when they were grown up," Max says. "I was interested in science and mathematics, and astronomy was my major love. I was going to go to science school and become an astronomer."

Perhaps serendipitously, a friend of Max's interfered with the course of his life when he invited the burgeoning astronomer to accompany him to the Art Student's League in New York City for a summer course.

"I went there to study with this amazing Irishman by the name of Frank Riley, and I just got the bug. Next thing I knew, I had stayed for 61/2 years and become a realist painter, like John Singer Sargent. If you stood by a window, I could paint you the way you looked, but when I started looking for work, people always said to me, 'Peter, your realism is unbelievable, but if we need realism, we get photography.' "

Finding himself turned down by art directors city-wide, and quickly running out of money, Max decided to make some changes. "I reinvented myself. I created an art style that had more to do with what I was interested in - astronomy, Eastern mysticism, Indian gurus, atoms, neutrinos - and before I knew it, I had amassed a complete universe."

The change, though driven purely by personal interests, seemed to resonate with a large number of people in the emerging '60s culture, and Max became an instant success. "Every gallery, every museum, every corporation wanted to use my art," Max says. "It's like my art spoke of the times we were in, and I guess I had sort of the look that the '60s were about." Max went from not being able to sell anything to getting sought out by companies such as General Electric and being the subject of TIME cover stories and network television specials.

By making his art an exploration of personal interests, Max was able to launch a flourishing career that continues to this day, and the personal aspect of his work is very important to him. "As soon as I developed a style that was dear to my heart, I became extremely successful. If you follow your heart, chances are you'll succeed," he says.

COLORS OF A BETTER WORLD
Peter Max will be in town for three nights for the Colors of a Better World show at Malton Gallery, a retrospective of the artist's career, spanning more than 40 years. You'll see first-hand Max's legendary pop artworks with subject matter ranging from the surreal to celebrities, all of which will be available for sale.

If you visit from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19 or Saturday, Nov. 20, or 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21, you can meet the man himself; bring a copy of the recent book, The Art of Peter Max, and Max will gladly sign it for you.

He'll also be on-hand to give updates on Cincinnati's favorite refugee cow, Cindy Woo, whom he visits regularly and talks about wherever he goes. "She's very, very happy. In fact, she's been seen with a bull by the name of Pierre. He's a nice black-and-white bull, and they hang out every day together."

Wednesday, November 10, 2004 | CiN Weekly
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