Peter Max interview, November 2013 for December issue.
Peter: Hey, is this Bob Edmonds?
Bill: It’s Bill, but yes, it is.
Peter: Good, I’m calling from the Lincoln Tunnel. Is it alright, can you
hear me okay?
Bill: Absolutely, I like the Lincoln Tunnel.
Peter: You like it? I like it too. So, we can talk. We’re heading to the
airport, got a few minutes with you. How are you my friend?
Bill: Pretty good, how about yourself?
Peter: Very good, I’ve been traveling all weekend long so it’s like my third
trip. I came back from Houston and Wisconsin and arrived here
two or three hours ago and back to the airport.
Bill: Wisconsin must be nice right now, all the colors.
Peter: It was nice. It’s great. I’m excited we’re going to be talking about
the book too, right?
Bill: I don’t know about the book, but I’d love to hear about it. Nobody
told me about a book.
Peter: Are we talking about the book
You were doing the exhibition in Fort Lauderdale.
Peter: Yeah, let me just flip the light. Okay, I got it. Hi there.
Bill: What’s the book you’re doing?
Peter: This book, it’s called the Universe of Peter Max. It just came out
two days ago. It’s beyond belief. I can’t believe it. I’m so excited.
Bill: I’ll put that in the article. I’d like to I’m
going to check that out.
Peter: Yeah, it’s come out by it’s
been published by Harper Collins. You
know who they are, right?
Peter: The big publisher.
Bill: That sounds great.
Peter: And it’s a biography, and I worked on it with a good friend of mine,
Victor, for about a year and got it done. They just published it, and
I’ve been carrying this book around for three days now.
[laughter] Bill: I’m looking forward to that.
Peter: So I’m going to my first I’m
going to a big thing today. I’m flying
are we flying to?
Peter: To Detroit.
Peter: To Detroit and we’re having a very big, the
first book thing at……
Bill: That’s a book signing, right?
Peter: It’s a book fair. I wouldn’t have gone, but I hear thousands of
people RSVP’d, so it’s like otherwise.
[cross-talk] Bill: You’ll sell more books.
Peter: Yeah, I’m going to have a book sent to you tomorrow. Then you’ll
have it, you can talk about it. Maybe you could show the book in
Bill: Absolutely, I will. I definitely will because it’s something that’s
really relevant. I
first heard of you when I was probably seven
or eight in the ’60s and I remember your 7 Up commercials and
boy, I can remember a lot of your stuff, you did an exhibition. I
don’t remember when it was, I was still five. But I’ve always know
about you, but I found that a lot of people still know who you are,
quite a bit of people. And I think that’s great. Because you’ve
really struck a chord with America.
Peter: It’s unbelievable. When I have a show in a gallery, even if they
barely advertise, thousands of people show up. It’s unbelievable. I
look at the people that travel
Bill: I know a lot of people in Florida really look forward to this, that’s
coming up in December. Well, I have a couple of questions I’d like
to ask before I lose you. One of the questions I had is about your
colors, your colors are so vibrant and full of life. The combination of color’s just makes me happy. So I’m wondering
Peter: Yeah, you know what? Yeah, go ahead.
Bill: I’m wondering what inspired you to use such colors, and did you
use these colors in the 50’s when you were relatively young when
you first came to America?
Peter: Well, first of all, in the 50’s, I went to art school. In the middle late
50’s, I went to art school. And I studied with a man who was a
student at the school where he now is a teacher. But when he
was a student, maybe 30 years before I got there, the kid that sat
next to him, for seven years, drawing models. You know the
models who take poses? It was another artist by a name that we all know Norman Rockwell.
Bill: Right. I like his stuff.
Peter: Can you hold a second? Let me tell my son I’m on an interview,
can you hold a second?
Bill: Sure. No problem.
We were then cut off and Peter called back
Peter: Hi, it’s me. I some how lost you. You know cell phones.
Bill: I figured. [laughter] Peter: How are you, my buddy?
Bill: Oh, not bad. [laughs] Peter: How far are you from New York, by the way? You must live on Long Island, right?
Bill: No, I’m in Florida.
Peter: Oh, 561 is Florida, right. I thought it was
Bill: Yes, 561 is Florida. I’m in West Palm Beach. So, I’m right up the road from Fort Lauderdale.
Peter: Do you ever come to New York? You do, right, from time to time?
Bill: Once in a while. Once in a while.
Peter: If you do, make sure you come by the studio. It would be nice to see you there. But let’s keep on topic.
Bill: I would really like that. I’ve heard about your studio. [laughs] Peter: Good. I would love to have you there.
Bill: Oh, that would be great. Okay, now I have another question about Cinci Freedom. Do you remember who that is?
Peter: Cinci Freedom. That’s the cow, right?
Bill: Yes, that’s the cow. [laughs] Peter: Right. That’s the cow. [crosstalk] Bill: I want to ask you about it.
Peter: Okay. I’ll tell you. You know, being into yoga, my whole life I was
into yoga. I brought a swami to America. So, I’m a full time yogi.
And when you become a yogi you meditate and everything, you
start really having a very sincere love for all animals, you know?
Just my knowledge developed beyond belief. I love little animals,
they are like little people. Anything that’s living deserve a lot of
respect from us. You know what I mean?
Bill: I do.
Peter: Because we may not know them, as we may not know what they
feel like, but when you think they are living, we are living. It’s most
important that we respect them a lot. So I have been always
adopting animals. Right now, I have six kitty cats in my house.
Three independent ones and three little sisters, and they are so
beautiful. I love them and they sleep with us. One day, as it was, I
found out that a cow escapes from a slaughterhouse, this is maybe you
probably have the date there, right? Roughly ten years ago, right?
Bill: The year 2002.
Peter: That’s 2002, it’s almost 10 years, right? And it just touched me so
deeply. Then when I heard something on the TV about it, that they
just captured her and they’re going down there to bring her back
to the slaughter house, all of this. I don’t know what the instinct
was with me. But even now talking about it, I instantly, instantly
wanted 5 seconds to be in the car to go up and get her. So, I
called a driver friend of mine who works for me and I called him
up with another friend. And within five minutes, we were
downstairs in the street getting in the car. And while we’re driving
upstate, sort of up north, right on the West Side Highway, we
found out where she is. Because that somebody she was
captured after she ran away and she ran through the woods and
through land. She finally wound up on somebody else’s land and
they caught her. And probably, maybe within 30, 40 minutes from
getting in the car, I was on that land. They brought me over to the
fencing area where she was temporarily captured, and then
probably they’re going to take her back to the slaughterhouse. And
I went out there, and she was like a beautiful, beige, brown kittycat
almost, a sweet little cow, and her eyes were so
adorable, and I looked at her. I stood maybe two feet, and we
looked at each other’s eyes, and I stroked her hair, and I just got
such an adrenaline rush. I walked up to the owners of this new
farm, and I made them a deal that I would buy a cow, if they have
let me have her. And then they said to me, “Well, it’s not our cow.
It belongs to the other farm,” which is four or five miles away. I
called these people, and when they knew it was Peter Max and I
was going to give them a piece of my art. I paid for the cow on top
of it, a present, and a payment. I got the cow, and we had her. We
brought her to a place called Farm Sanctuary. That’s an
organization that has a lot of cattle and various other animals on
it. They are like an animal rights organization. They never kill
animals, they save them. You know, if somebody finds some
animal, you heard about them, right?
Peter: And I was so afraid for her and [inaudible] Farm Sanctuary on the
phone, and they said, “Of course, Peter. We’ll take her,
absolutely. There will be a lot of friends for her there.” On my
behalf, they hired a truck, met me at the farm where the cow was,
and I made a deal with the people who owned the cow, I think I
paid for her I forgot what it was, it was quite a few years ago.
And we brought there called her Cindy Woo, and then some of
them called her Cinci Freedom, but Cindy was the name I gave
her. And I don’t know why I called her Cindy Woo, maybe for the
emotional part of it, because she’s a cute little girl. And she
stayed at the new farm Sanctuary for several
years, two to three years. And I went up to visit her in the
beginning every few weeks, and then I went every month or two,
then every few weeks. I used to go all the time, and sometimes
she would be at the fence and she came close to me, I would pet
her little head. They have such beautiful, big necks, right?
Bill: Right. And [?] Peter: And she had big, beautiful brown eyes, and a couple of times I
was on the other side with her, on the fence. And I remember
once I gave her a beautiful little kiss on the side of the cheek. I’ve
done that two times. And then after another year or so, one day I
got a call that she passed away.
Bill: Oh, that’s too bad.
Peter: I was at my studio and I cried a little bit. I had such an attachment
to her and I loved her. And I wish sometimes I could of had her at my country
place, but I don’t live there. I just go there once in a while, so she
couldn’t stay there. Where I kept her is where they take care of
animals like that. So I had a beautiful, loving relationship with her
and I felt really good in my heart that I did that. And because of the
relationship I had with her, I’ve been supporting animals like
Bill: Well, I think that’s great.
Peter: You can’t imagine. One day I don’t say no to anybody. I always
do something. We send money. We send art for auctions,
everything, to help these sweet little animals. They live here on
Earth like we do, and unfortunately in this time in the evolution of
our species, it seems the animals aren’t that recognized yet, in a
big way. They’re recognized some better way than maybe 23
years ago. People have dogs and kitties. People have all kinds of
birds and things. And, I admit a lot of people who have cows and
other large animals. You know, and some people love them a lot,
and I can understand it now.
Bill: Well you know, I think one of your biggest accomplishments are
with animals. I think you do a lot of things in this world, and do a
lot of great things in this world, but the simple things are the
important things. So I like that story.
Peter: It takes me back to her. As I’m talking to you, I envision her right now, I
completely see her, i can see her as though she is at the farm right
now, in my mind.
Bill: I think that’s great. I really do.
Peter: So you brought me back into it. [laughter] Bill: Well now, that’s going to tie me into another question. If you never
became a painter, what would you have done?
Peter: I probably would have been an astronomer. I had such an intense
appreciation and interest in the universe, you can’t imagine. When
I was a young boy living in Shanghai. You know that I lived in
Shanghai for close to 10 years?
Bill: Yes. I have questions about that too, so let’s put them together.
Peter: We lived in a beautiful pagoda house. We were about 100 feet
from…we had a big piece of land and one side of the land was
next to a big park. My house nanny took me to the park when I
was about five or six years old. We would always sit on the
bench. There was always an elderly man sitting there. One day
we sat on the bench and he came and sat next to me. He said,
“Hi” I was shy. It was one of those moons you see sometimes through
the day you’ve seen those, right? When the full moon is out in the daytime;
and he’s just talking to me about it, and he’s pointing at
the moon and he says, “Do you know what that is?” And I go, “It’s
the moon.” He goes, “Do you know what it is?” And I said, “No.” I
didn’t really know what it is, I just knew it was the moon. And he
must have been an astronomer because every time I went to see
him at the park we talked. He always talked about the moon, the
stars, the universe. He was fascinated with the subject. He filled
me up with fascination about it. It was such a mystery that half my
fantasies is what I made up about. It was an enormous interest,
and all my life I thought I would become an astronomer. And when
I started drawing and painting, I drew a lot of stars and celestial
objects, never thinking I would become an artist. And then I
became an artist, and it became one of my subjects that I love to
paint and draw. Mostly draw and it’s something even today. I love
subjects on television when they have someone talking about the
universe. When Carl Sagan used to be on television, I saw every
show three, four times in one day [inaudible].
Bill: Yes, me too.
Peter: You too, right? Can you imagine? It’s such an amazing thing like
Carl Sagan in a such an amazing person
Bill: I loved his show. He had a great show.
Peter: Yeah and one day I come into my building where I’m now and as I
walk in, there is a guy in the elevator that’s must have gotten in
the elevator like thirty seconds before I did and I look up [inaudible] in the building, right? And then I said to myself, “Oh my God, this
is Carl Sagan in my building.” I said, “Excuse me, you’re Carl
Sagan?” He goes “Yeah” and then he looked at me close and
then he points his finger at me with a questionable face and he
says, “Peter Max?” I said, “Yes.” “Oh, my God.” I said, “Do you
have a studio here?” He said yes. “Oh, my God, I love your work.”
I said, “I love what you do.” So I dragged him up to the seventh
floor where my studio is and we spent time. I brought out posters
and I gave him maybe five six posters with stars and planet on it.
And I must have told him 100 times how much I love his show,
100 times. I am not exaggerating. And he must have told me at
least I want to be a little modest but at least five, ten times how
much he loves my work. So it was like a love affair.
Bill: So you would be known to go out at night and go and look at a
constellation every once in a while, wouldn’t you?
Peter: Yeah. And once in a while I had friends, they’d love the stuff and
they look at me and tell me this is that, this is that. And all that we
could do is imagine, if you have a great imagination, which I have.
You know I made more out of it than maybe meets the eye, you
know what I mean?
Bill: Did you influence your kids with the stars at all? Did you take your
kids out to view the stars.
Peter: Maybe to some degree. Yeah, I did but they are not as interested
in it as I am today, but then they’ve gotten a lot of it from me
already. So they know a lot about it, but it’s unbelievable. I was like
I’ve been with so many people who are in the astronomy
world and its mind boggling. You know what I just heard a few
days ago? That there are some things in our galaxy,
the Milky Way. That hold over forty billion habitable planets.
Bill: Did you just read that a couple of days ago?
Peter I was just told this a couple of days ago. Everybody has been
telling me because they know I love this stuff
Bill: Yeah, because I just read this.
Peter: The Kepler story. About the Kepler in NY Times, just now, two
Bill: Yeah, I think that’s where I read it.
Peter: Can you imagine? Isn’t it mind boggling?
Bill: That really is something. I mean if you think about it for a second.
Peter: 40 billion planets like us. And we only have a maybe I don’t
know how many billion people live on the planet. Six, seven billion?
Bill: Kind of too many. [chuckles] Peter: 40 billion planets like ours. And let’s say if 40 billion planets even
all had a half a million people or a million people. Five, ten
species, my God, right? Mind boggling.
Bill: Right. And you wouldn’t even know what species they were. You
don’t even know what these people look like. So it really does boggle the mind.
Peter: Can you hold a second, my friend? I’m just getting out of the car.
Peter: We’re at the airport.
Bill: Sure. Sure.
Peter If I lose you I’ll call you right back. But I’m not going to lose you. Hold on.
[silence] Peter Now I’m going follow my friends. Today four of us are flying to
Detroit. I think it’s just
Bill: I’m not going to keep you very much longer. I…
Peter Please write my number down, because I’ll be at the airport and
meeting a private plane, so if you want to call me and have a
Bill: Okay. That would be great. I have one last question.
Peter: Go ahead, my friend. You can ask me now. I’m walking. Don’t
worry, ask. I’m completely free here. Go ahead.
Bill: The Bearsville Cafe, that’s in New York. I wanted to ask about
Peter: Bearsville Cafe Hold on a second. Bearsville Cafe is where? [inaudible] Peter: Yeah, Bearsville Cafe in Woodstock, New York, where I have a
Bill: I had read that you had breakfast with Jimmy Hendrix three or four
times a week.
Peter: I used to see Jimmy all the time. We were friends. I was in
disbelief in the beginning because I loved him and loved his
music. He was a very kind, sweet guy. I loved his music. He used
to play for me in his room. The different bass lines. When he
became a star, he was 10 times further out. He was
Bill: He was unbelievable.
Peter: We can’t say that there aren’t unbelievable musicians in the
world, because I’m a big music fan, and I can tell you are, too.
Bill: I am.
Peter: I loved Jimmy. Suddenly, he started making albums and, oh my
god, it was beyond belief. When he died, I cried like a little baby.
Bill: My kids play Jimmy Hendrix now on their guitars. It’s such a, it’s
really a treat I think he would love the fact that so many kid’s love
Peter: How old are your kids?
Bill: The fact that everybody loved him. My kids are in their twenties
Peter: Wow, and do they play any instruments? How many kids do you have?
Bill: I have four.
Peter: Are they boys, girls?
Bill: All girls.
Peter: And they all play guitar?
Bill: Well, they all play something. Two play guitar, two are piano
Peter: So, they love rock and roll, right? They love music.
Bill: Oh yes. Do you play any instruments?
Peter: Well, I can dabble in the piano. When I was much younger I
played the harmonica. But, you’ve never met anyone that loves
music more than me. I have around me, friends and friends and
friends, all musicians. And sometimes, I’ll hire people because
they’re music lovers and then I have them in my studio they play
my music for me, but they also do other work.
Bill: I think that’s really cool. [chuckles] Peter: Yeah.
Bill: I read you have your own DJ in your studio
Peter: He trails me. He’s like 50 feet away from me right now.
Bill: Oh, that’s great. That’s just what an art studio should have
Peter: Giving out tickets.
Bill [laughs] I love it. Well, I’ve got your phone number, and if I have
any other questions could I call you? I might have a question about the book.
Peter: I would love you to call me. The book is by Abrams. Right?
Abrams is the name of the publisher. It’s called “The Universe of Peter Max.”
Peter: Is the book called “The Universe of Peter Max,” or “The Peter Max
Universe”? It’s “The Universe of Peter Max.”
Bill: I’m going to find out exactly, because it’s got to go in the article,
so I have to have it exact. [laughs] So, I’ll find out.
Peter: If you can get them to send you or get a copy, maybe your art
director could put the cover of it right in the book.
Bill: Oh, that would be a really good idea, too.
Peter: And it’s a gorgeous cover. The guy who designed the cover with
me is eating an apple about a hundred feet away. All my people
are with me at the airport, four of us.
Bill: Oh, I like that. Close group. Well, I would like to put the cover of
the book in the magazine. That would be good. I would like that in the article.
Peter: Okay, my buddy. And call me if you need anything else. Call me, okay? You have my number, right?
Bill: I do. I really appreciate your time.
Peter: Did I give you my cell?
Bill: It’s (XXX)-XXX-XXXX
Peter: You got it. I loved talking to you, and let’s do it again. Okay?
Bill: Great. Thank you very much, Peter. I really appreciate you talking to me.
Peter: Okay. Thank you so much. Bye bye.
Bill: See you. Bye bye.