Peter Max photo

Q&A: Pop Culture Artist Peter Max About Career-Spanning Exhibition

We sat down with legendary pop culture artist Peter Max to talk about his new career-spanning exhibit – Peter Max: The Collected Works 1960-2017 – which will make a stop at Gallery 505 in June.

The uber-groovy artist Peter Max’s visual style, with its bright colors and hippy overtones, was part of the visual vernacular in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Max has devoted nearly four decades painting pop culture. He’s painted portraits of many well-known musicians (Lionel Richie, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and Taylor Swift, to name a few). 

A career-spanning exhibit – Peter Max: The Collected Works 1960-2017 – opens at Whitefish Bay’s Gallery 505 on Saturday, June 3, and Max will make an appearance at the gallery on June 10 and 11. This exhibition is free to the public; however, RSVPs are required at 414-962-6302 or

In preparation for this event, we asked Max a few questions, and discovered that he still seems to be tripping out on LOVE and the amazing amazingness of everything. Groovy.

Peter Max Tom Petty portrait
Photo courtesy of Peter Max

How do you feel about coming to Milwaukee?

I love it. It’s beautiful. I haven’t been to Milwaukee in quite a while.

Has Milwaukee affected your work at all?

I’m sure it did at the time. Every place I go has an effect on me. It’s nice.

How does it feel to have such a wide impact on all corners of US pop culture with your work?

You know what, I slowly got into it but very softly. So it’s growing on me but I love it. It’s so nice. It’s such a wonderful media country. It’s unbelievable. The amount of media we have in this country is amazing.

What was the biggest thing you learned about American pop culture compiling your work for this exhibit?

That it’s one of the most amazing cultures on the planet. We have the greatest diversity here and it’s so brilliant. It’s an amazing culture.

As far your painting style goes, how does your overall method compare now with when you first started?

I’ve matured in it and I love it. Things that were difficult back then are easy now. It’s wonderful for me now.

What do you like most about painting musicians?

I like them all. Every painting is a new challenge. Completely unknown is nice and well-known is also nice. They’re all nice. Very fun for me.

Any favorite stories of meeting musicians?

All of them are famous and all of them are exciting people. They’re the most fantastic people in the world, really. Presidents, rock stars, it’s all fun. It’s a lot of fun for me.

What’s your favorite thing about painting presidents?

That they’re all different but fun to paint. They’re popular people. They’re very much loved and liked all over the country. I love them. They’re wonderful to be with. They’re great company for me.

Was there one you really enjoyed?

I love them all. They’re all so great. You get to meet Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan and all these amazing people. It’s fantastic.

Peter Max Super Bowl 31
Image courtesy of Goldin Auctions

You’ve painted some things for the Super Bowl and the NFL.

Yeah, that was also great. It was a lot of fun. They’re all different from each other but at the time when I do them it’s a lot of fun for me. They’re all just a lot of fun. I got to know them and some of them I knew very well in advance. And some of them I got to know them as I’m doing it. It’s all very nice. I’ve done five Super Bowls, if you can believe it. It’s so fantastic. GRAMMYs, Super Bowls, and more over the years. All fantastic.

ow has painting helped you understand pop culture over the years?

You drift into it. We have an amazing culture in this country. It’s such a popular culture. So, it’s unbelievable. Plus, we have so much amazing media like radio, television, magazines, newspapers. It’s all so unbelievable.

What advice would you give new artists starting out?

Just to work with the media. We have an exciting media and living in an exciting world right now that’s all very playful. It’s wonderful to play with it.

Do you have any big projects coming up?

More than you can believe. Dozens and dozens of those unbelievable things. My travels just fill up my studio. It’s exciting day to day. I’m very lucky that way. It’s a wonderful world for me.



Joshua Miller covers music and culture for Milwaukee Magazine. He also writes for various other outlets in Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago. You can follow him at @JoshuaMMillerWI.