Saturday, June 06, 2020

THE ENERGY OF THE 1960s, part 4

At the beginning of the 1960s, Peter Max was a talented, if conventional, illustrator .

By the end of the 1960s, he had popularized a new psychedelic style, with bright pop art colors and cosmic, magical tropes.  For a few years his style became emblematic of the 60s counterculture.

That was long enough to make Max a very wealthy man.  He worked in an 18 room art studio overlooking the Hudson River and drove a Rolls Royce which he had decorated.

Another talented artist who worked in the 60s psychedelic style was Heinz Edelmann, the art director for the ground breaking animated movie, Yellow Submarine.


Edelmann traveled from Germany to London the year Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, because he wanted to be "where everything was happening." In London he worked with the Beatles on Yellow Submarine, a bright, colorful and phantasmagorical mix of graphic art, animation and rock music.

While Yellow Submarine contains some conventional and even mediocre passages, it also contained highly imaginative and evocative segments.  Edelmann kept the film brimming with energy, resolving that "the style should vary every 5 minutes or so."  Consistent with the adventurous mood of the era, Edelmann went around to the art schools in London hunting for interesting students to work on the movie on the night shift. Op art, collage and finger painting all found their way into the film.

The 60s were too hot not to cool down, but it's difficult to think of another cultural period since that time when art, music, clothing, design and media all came together with so much intensity.


kev ferrara said...

I don’t see that Lux Lewis cover as “conventional.” I see it as quite excellent, showing a deep knowledge and appreciation of shadowy “symbolist” artists such as Eugene Carriere (see Winding Wool, 1887) and Kathe Kollwitz.

Around the same time that my mother was selling wild abstracts to New York galleries in the late 60s and early 70s, my father was doing law work for Peter Max, carrying his law papers to and from Max’s Hudson River happening in an electric guitar case.

Given what my childhood home looked like (Peter Max prints on the wall, Peter Max bedsheets, swirling red white and blue Peter Max wallpaper in the kitchen, etc) my presumption is that my father was often paid by Mr. Max in goods rather than cash.

I grew up thinking that Yellow Submarine was actually done by Peter Max. As imaginative as the movie is, it should go down in history as one of the biggest, most blatant rip offs of any artist’s style in history.

I always assumed that Peter Max took his last name from Maxfield Parrish. There is, I think, a deep connection between Max’s dream world and Maxfield’s. (It turns out, his middle name at birth was Max. So the coincidence is happenstance.)

I enjoy a great deal about 1960s culture, even the kitschy stuff (except for Elvis movies) and agree it was a rare cultural time across every artform. I am afraid that touchscreen culture could prevent any such humanistic blossoming of art and craft from ever happening again, as it is so funneling/limiting on both life, personality, and aesthetic invention.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I didn't mean to suggest that the Lux Lewis cover wasn't very strong work-- In fact, I wrote about how much I like this picture back in 2009 ( ). I only meant that it was "conventional," i.e., not revolutionary.

When you say that Yellow Submarine was "one of the biggest, most blatant rip offs of any artist’s style in history," which artist do you mean? I know Peter Max was arrogant to the point of being loony and claimed credit for everything ("Beatlemania came in then and I was sort of the visual counterpart to all of that....I guess I did define the ' '60s Style.' It was all over. I created it....I'm just trying to bring order to the planet.") but in fact the psychedelic style seemed to evolve from at least 3 or 4 places simultaneously.

Max was doing solid, conventional work at least until 1965. His work in the Society of Illustrators annuals was solid but hardly psychedelic. In 1966, things started to heat upin several locations; The San Francisco psychedelic poster scene took off with artists such as Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, and Wes Wilson. In Europe, a hippie artist commune received international press starting in 1966 for their psychedelic designs on clothing, musical instruments, etc. Their designs showed up in the Sergeant Pepper album, and in the clothing worn in the I Am The Walrus video as well as the Beatles' global broadcast of All You Need is Love. The Dutch artists in the collective formed a design firm, The Fool, which catered to many of the top rock n' roll bands. (Max himself, as conceited as he became, never suggested that the Beatles, Eric Clapton, the Hollies and others got their ideas from him; he said they developed "independently.") Back on the east coast in the US, Timothy Leary had been proselytizing LSD to artists and writers since 1963, and psychedelia was turning up in poetry and the new journalism. Heinz Edelmann was working in that vein in Germany, in what I suppose could be called a mix of surrealism, pop art and art nouveau. So which of the above was Yellow Submarine ripping off?

If Max had a superior claim to this style, it could be because he had superior contracts and licensing agreements, and nailed down IP rights while the genuine stoners in San Francisco and Ibiza who were mostly interested in drugs, nirvana and the counterculture. You know what that means? It was your father's law papers that made all the difference!

xopxe said...

Talking about sixties, I once heard the opinion that reggae was the last new musical genre to appear, because it developed in the right amount of isolation over the right amount of time, and that this isolation is no longer possible. Things get caught and mixed and integrated too fast to grow a true identity.
I wonder what would be the equivalent of that in visual communication.

chris bennett said...

Interesting question xopxe. I'll have to think about it before I offer an answer, if I can find an answer.

I will say that one should define what we mean by genre before trying to answer such a thing. Because one has to know whether the emergence of a new genre, for example reggae or psychedelia, is different from originality. And before answering that it is worth bearing in mind that truth, by definition, is never original. Because a truth is not the same thing as a fact. A truth is a principle of relationships found to be reliably operating within certain conditions. A fact can be new (The tree in your garden falls down) or original (a new strain of virus), therefore seeking to be new or original is merely to seek a new or original fact. In terms of art this is what we see, for example, with Malevich’s black square. So is originality related to truth in art? And if it is, exactly how is it related?

Laurence John said...

Kev: "...(Peter Max prints on the wall, Peter Max bedsheets, swirling red white and blue Peter Max wallpaper in the kitchen, etc)..."

Kev, i think this is the first time you've made me feel sorry for you.

Peter Max is visual torture to me. There's nothing artistically redeeming i can find about his work. It looks like it was made to decorate the sides of 1960s-70s arcade games.

Heinz Edelmann's work has a more disturbing, grotesque quality, and a bolder, graphic use of shape / form (and the colours aren't just pure garishness) which makes me wonder if he was influenced by Polish poster artists of the 60s.

kev ferrara said...

It seems to me that Peter Max's cosmic style came together in 1967 -- with the cartoony, flowing line, the innocence, the figures, the wild flat coloring, the proliferation of elements, and his incorporation as "Peter Max Things" (the operation that would send that stuff out.) Glaser's Dylan poster was also in 1967, but no cartooning, no figures. I don't see any evidence of Edelmann producing work of the clarity of Max's specific cartoon style until Submarine. If you look at Edelmann's concept art to Yellow Submarine, it looks like the stuff of his you posted here; pencil, globular, with bits of brightness; it feels influenced by Saul Steinberg. Whereas the film looks like Peter Max's already established super-bright, clear, and flowing 1967 style.

I'm not blaming Edelmann for this, as I think he's very imaginative and had his own style. I presume it was the necessities of producing a bright celluloid cartoon film, rather than a pencil drawings, that led them to Max's cartoon style. Maybe it was coincidence that Edelmann on celluloid looks just like Max.

Peter Max is visual torture to me. There's nothing artistically redeeming i can find about his work. It looks like it was made to decorate the sides of 1960s-70s arcade games.

It's wondrous piffle; visual jabberwocky; absolutely innocent of concern. Like if Sergio Aragones ghosted on Little Nemo using Colorforms. It's no different than Picasso's piffle or Miro's piffle. They're all cartoony design styles.

There should be a video game that looks like Max's late 60s work and Yellow Submarine.

Richard said...

This exchange about Kevs childhood home has me dyin’! 🤣