To describe pop artist icon Peter Max, one analogy comes to Lesley Smith’s mind.
“Peter is to art what Mick Jagger is to music,” said Smith, long-time curator and expert of Max’s works. “He’s a rock star.”
The “Peter Max: The Retrospective 1960-2019” exhibition will stop in downtown Scottsdale at DeRubeis Fine Art of Metal on March 15 and 16.
An artist whose paintings are on exhibition in hundreds of museums and galleries worldwide, Max is also known for painting portraits of musicians, including The Beatles, Tom Petty, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and more.
He was also the official artist of the Grammys, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and five Super Bowls.
Plus, Max has painted the last seven presidents and contestants of “The Voice.”
The newly curated exhibition will feature 120 pieces of Max’s work, including both never-before-seen pieces and Max’s most iconic works from the past six decades.
All artworks included in the exhibition are for sale.
“It's happy art; it's not serious. It's nothing that you have to try to figure out what it is. There's no hidden meaning,” Smith said. “There's just beauty. It's out there and enjoy it.”
Well-known pieces – all of which are rich with vibrant colors – include the art nouveau-inspired “Love,” the poster for the ‘60s generation; “Statue of Liberty”; and “Better World,” the artwork that was on the 10-cent stamp in 1974.
“It's amazing the way that Peter's art has really defined a generation,” Smith said.
Smith, a noted Peter Max historian and Road Show Company’s director of traveling exhibitions for North American, curated the upcoming exhibition.
Smith said she curates a show “to make it special for that area or special for the time that we're in.”
For example, she said, “we're getting ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.”
Max created the stage banner art and posters for the 30th anniversary of Woodstock in ’99.
Smith added that she makes it a point to include all of Max’s most popular works, “so that there's something that connects for everybody,” she said. “Peter wants his art to be accessible to everyone.”
Smith has traveled with this ever-evolving collection for 20 years; it’s a tour she lovingly calls the “Great Adventure Tour.”
“The most fun in the beginning was traveling with Peter and seeing people's reaction to Peter. He's just a phenomenal person,” Smith said. “To be able to be involved with his creativity and with his imagination and to be a part of sharing this with people across the country, it's been pretty exciting.”
Smith adds that this tour is also an opportunity to expose people to more approachable fine art.
“Peter's art is not difficult to understand,” she said. “It's pretty and it's happy and it's the first piece of real artwork they collect.”
The collection was previously in Florida this year and will travel to Connecticut and Philadelphia.
“There's no efficient rhyme or reason of why we go to where we go,” Smith said.
This is the second time Max’s works have made an appearance in Scottsdale, though. It first stopped in Scottsdale five years ago at the same gallery.
“We have a relationship with Phillip Sacks [owner and partner of DeRubeis], and Scottsdale's just a great environment for bright, happy art,” Smith said.
Smith will be present at the exhibition on March 14; Max, on the other hand, will not.
Max, 81, stopped traveling with the exhibition due to his age and health.
Smith will share with attendees the stories behind each piece as well as behind-the-scenes stories about Max’s life – the latter being her favorite stories to tell.
“All of our sales staff is – and we've been together a long time – fully educated in sharing those stories and really what Peter is all about,” Smith said.
One of her favorite stories to tell is the story behind “Flag With Heart,” a whimsical, playful interpretation of the American flag.
“Peter tells this story, and I think it's a great story,” she said.
Smith continued, “After he painted ‘Liberty,’ every year after the bicentennial, he would paint ‘Liberty’ somewhere on the Fourth of July, and there would always be some big festivity.”
One year, Max painted the Statue of Liberty on the lawn of the White House when Ronald Reagan was president.
“Legend has it that Ronald Reagan came to Peter in a dream after that and asked him to paint a flag for a kinder country,” Smith said.
Peter woke up but had no clean canvases. So, he sketched an American flag on the back of a used, 9-by-12-inch canvas.
On the American flag, he drew a heart in place of one of the stars.
“He’s been doing these flags since then, and he only does one size with the little flipped-around canvas because that was the size he originally did,” Smith said. “On all of the bigger ones he does, he paints a border on it as if it were the stretcher bars.”
Although Max will not travel with the collection nor be present at the Scottsdale exhibition, clients will have the opportunity to visit Max at his studio in New York – with a qualifying purchase of $8,000.
“So instead of bringing Mohammed to the mountain, we're bringing the clients to his studio, which is really a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it's really fun,” Smith said.
At the studio, Max continues to paint both new and older pieces.
“Even though he paints the same images over and over again, they are his sacred icons and members of his family,” Smith said. “They're all going to be different.”
Smith hopes the biggest takeaway from this upcoming Max exhibition is, simply, for people of all generations – past, present and future – to enjoy the artwork.
“That’s what creating art is all about, that's what buying art is all about, is that you get to enjoy it. Your children get to enjoy it,” she said. “Way after this adventure tours over, it's just a part of who you are.”
And if there’s one message Smith hopes attendees get from Max’s work, it’s this:
“Be kind to each other. Protect the environment. Make it a better world,” Smith said.
If You Go:
Peter Max: The Retrospective 1960-2019
When: March 15 from 6-8 p.m., March 16 from 1-3 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.
Where: DeRubeis Fine Art of Metal, 7171 E. Main St.
RSVP: Call 480-941-6033 or email firstname.lastname@example.org