Winter Wonderwalls: Peter Max, b.j. spoke, Grumman Gallery

Winter Wonderwalls: Peter Max

Over the holiday season people often tend to have more time off and more reason to do something indoors that might take them to some place they never expected—even if it’s only in their mind’s eye. What follows is an arbitrary assortment of some of the more interesting offerings in the art and cultural scene on Long Island. But don’t wait until spring—or they’ll all be gone like melted snow.

Nassau County Museum of Art

Let’s start with one of the more unusual solo shows on the roster, unusual in part because we never associate black and white with the psychedelic palette of colors used to perfection by the great pop artist Peter Max, whose distinctive style that he pioneered in the Sixties when he first befriended the Beatles has continued to influence our culture in so many ways today. Billions of people have seen his colorful creations, from the cosmic to the fanciful, and millions have taken his work home in some form or another, making him one of the most commercially successful artists in the world. He’s done U.S. postage stamps and Super Bowls, the World Cup and even the World Series. His work is owned by more than a thousand museums.

But thanks to the inspiration of Karl Willers, the enterprising director of the Nassau County Museum of Art, who curated this never-before-seen, in-depth look at Max’s original drawings, we can see for ourselves that Max is fundamentally a prolific drawer in black and white first, then a colorist. It’s an inspired choice because these drawings let us glimpse how this iconic artist actually approaches a canvas. He picks up a pen, watches black lines emerge on a white sheet of paper and then take shape in his mind. Sometimes the shapes become purple birds, gleaming rainbows, pink sailboats or the iconic blue-suited “Cosmic Runner,” striding over a green planet in wide orange boots, a yellow star shining on his back and a yellow top-hat with a maroon lightning bolt on his head.

Sometimes it’s something darker. The exhibition includes about 119 drawings as well as 60 paintings.

Peter Max
Prolific pop artist Peter Max shows off his colorful palette with his classic “Cosmic Runner” at the Nassau County Museum of Art.
Peter Max Album Cover
Peter Max’s album cover for Alice Coltrane at the Nassau County Museum of Art.
Peter Max, Flying High
Peter Max’s 1980 drawing takes center stage at the Nassau County Museum of Art.

“The beauty is that I have a rectangular piece of paper and I start composing on the paper so the shapes are all different from each other,” he tells the Press, from his studio on West 65th Street across from Lincoln Center.

“Then a drawing comes out of it. I never know where I’m going with it, so I get surprised. I love it!”

As for his more commonly seen posters, lithographs, prints, album covers, and paintings, he says, “I have a tremendous love and sense for color. Sometimes I use a lot of flat colors with an outline, sometimes I paint with heavy thick brushes and there is no outline so it’s very painterly…Wherever I think the art wants to go is where I go.”

Max is commonly mistaken for doing the animation of Yellow Submarine, but that was really an homage to him done by the animator Heinz Edelmann, who literally called himself “The German Peter Max” on his business card.

As Max recounts it, he was annoyed at first by Edelman’s imitation but then he realized it was a compliment.

“He was such a fan,” Max says. “I said to him, ‘Look, I really like what you did and it’s okay you’re inspired by me, but do me one favor, Hans, take my name off your card!’”

Max may have his flatterers but no one can imitate his unique background.

Born in Berlin as Peter Max Finkelstein, his Jewish parents fled the Nazis when he was a toddler and found refuge in Shanghai, before moving to New York and settling in Brooklyn. Now 75, he is constantly drawing “every day, from the time I wake up until I go to sleep…I always have a pad near me, on an airplane, everywhere.”

Before making the selection for this exhibition, Max went through “hundreds and hundreds” of drawings.

Helping him make the cut was the noted art historian, Charles A. Riley II, Ph.D., author of The Art of Peter Max, an important book about the celebrated artist.

“His influence is still everywhere, in art, in fashion, in graphic design,” says Riley. Here’s the chance to look inside the mind of “a very important figure in pop culture,” he adds.

“There have been tons of Peter Max shows in color,” says Riley. “Living color is his idiom, really.” Riley applauds Willers for showing him in black and white, bringing out drawings that have been sitting in the flat files in Max’s studio for years, and then putting them up on display. “I think it’s a really bold show…This is the most original way to go about a Peter Max survey, so it’s good to see.”

Do the drawings hold up with his color work? Riley believes it does.

“For those who like art and drawing, and especially are interested in the process of art, there’s an intimacy to it,” Riley says. In other words, he explained, before there’s a final image that goes into a commercial print run to be mass produced, there’s a special moment captured only once in each of his drawings.

“Instead of the quantity, this is one on one,” Riley enthuses, “and I think that’s what makes the show valuable… One drawing, for one moment, and for one viewer.”

Max says his “closest relationship to art” is through his drawing. Then comes painting. But the process is always ongoing.

“I look at my palette, I’m creative; I look at my pen and paper, I’m creative,” says Max enthusiastically. “I listen to music, I can get creative about it… Creativity is, like, the biggest gift. Look, what do we call our whole thing? We call it creation, right?”


The Peter Max show runs until February 23 at the Nassau County Museum of Art, which is at One Museum Drive, Roslyn Harbor. To check for times, call 516-484-9338.

Art patrons see another dimension at Huntington’s b.j. spoke gallery’s annual holiday show.
Art patrons see another dimension at Huntington’s b.j. spoke gallery’s annual holiday show.

b.j. spoke gallery

Our next exhibit features a group show of local artists who may not be as well known around the world as Peter Max but they are no less dedicated to their artistry as shown by their annual “Holiday Sell-a-bration of Fine Arts and Crafts,” a tradition going back decades. Thirty artists, all members of the co-operative gallery, have their works on display and for sale, with prices ranging from $50 to $1,000, all specially reduced for the holidays. The styles run the gamut.

“The artists are all different,” says Katherine Criss, a painter and a photographer who is currently the co-op’s vice president. “You never know what to expect when you walk into the gallery—that’s what’s wonderful about it. It becomes a festive marketplace for art.”

Criss, who went to the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, said she uses “the photography medium as a painter uses paint…with layered images.”

To become a member of the gallery, artists have to get their work first approved by the co-op. Then they become eligible for a solo show. For the holiday sale, each co-op member gets about four feet of space in the gallery’s three rooms, so the pieces tend to be manageable rather than gigantic. There promises to be a wide assortment of ceramics, jewelry and flat work as well as a few solid pieces on an art stand.

Art patrons “can take it right off the wall and take it home,” says Criss.

But they have to pay first, of course.

The holiday sale runs seven days a week through Jan. 12 at b.j. spoke gallery, which is at 299 Main St., Huntington. For gallery times call 631-549-5106.

Steve Jobs at Grumman Gallery
Giovanni DeCunto’s “Steve Jobs” portrait is on display at the new Grumman Gallery in Bethpage.

Grumman Gallery

An ambitious new art space has opened up in Bethpage appropriately named the Grumman Gallery. Internationally renowned expressionist painter Giovanni DeCunto shared the grand opening honors with the popular landscape photographer Asia Lee. The Gallery is located in Suite 1 of Grumman’s Suites at 500 Grumman Road West.

“Grumman Gallery will be a hub for exhibitions of all kinds and all mediums: photography, digital art and more,” said Vanessa Ferrelli, the new gallery’s owner. The centerpiece of the show is DeCunto’s “The Spirit & The Modern,” which explores the duality of “our innermost selves and our nearly fanatical obsession with celebrity, the afterlife and technology,” according to Ferrelli.

“’The Spirit & The Modern’ is both transformative and provoking, while Asia Lee’s landscapes show us the beauty of a non-digital environment,” said Ferrelli. “Those are two completely different experiences that we’re inviting our guests to have.”

For more information on this show, which will be running through December, contact Michelle Chorney, the Grumman Gallery’s director, at 917-387-7277 or go to www.grummangallery.com.

More from our Sister Sites