In a ramshackle college apartment back in 1967, I tentatively fingered a poster created by an enigmatic artist by the name of Peter Max. Then I held onto it for a long time.
The poster spoke to me: stylized, colorful, graphic, and intensely captivating. I didn't know it then, but this visual essence connected me to a generation blasting away from abstract impressionism and surrealism into a new form called Pop Art.
Max was its master.
That first encounter could not be my last; anymore than "Love Me Do" could have been my first and last encounter with The Beatles. Max was the shining superstar of sixties' art.
His work began to appear everywhere: on The Ed Sullivan Show, on the cover of Life Magazine, on postage stamps.
In Peter's art we saw who we were becoming as a youth cohort: adventurous, bold, colorful, creative, magical, and unpredictable.
In Max we found our artist-laureate, someone who had discovered how to fuse youthful fantasies of a better world with magnetic astrophysical and cosmological visions. We saw stars and moons. We became fast friends with a whimsical dega man and a flower-blossom lady.
His work has had no media limitations, from the back of a napkin (an example of which is gracing a wall in the home of my next door neighbor) to the airbrushed hull of a 777 jetliner.
His work has since become the visual tapestry for the World Cup, Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, and, fittingly, the stage of Woodstock 1999, commemorating the 30th anniversary of that seminal Boomer event.
For those keeping track of business, he has over a billion dollars worth of his prolific output distributed around the world: blue jeans, t-shirts, neckties, watches, album covers, posters, scarves, limited edition fine art reproductions, and, of course, priceless originals.
Peter Max reveals one incredible facet of being Boomer, so please understand this moment: Last Saturday, I walked with the artist through an inspiring retrospective exhibit at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (CSFAC). I heard his personal reflections of a life well lived.
For those of you who have read my book, you are aware of a chapter case study that describes how several years ago I restaged the album cover for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," using community and business leaders to create an arresting photographic montage.
The membership campaign that bore this iconic image successfully repositioned the CSFAC as a social and cultural nexus for Boomers in Colorado Springs. And today that marketing tradition has found a much greater manifestation with The Creative World of Peter Max (February 12 though April, 23, 2006).
Fine Arts Center president and CEO Michael De Marsche and marketing director Madeleine Faber Mellini, plus an impassioned staff and volunteer board, have pulled off a strategic homerun, the likes of which Colorado Springs has never seen.
Here's a glimpse: I am striding directly behind Max and De Marsche, leading a dozen community leaders and sponsors, as we snake the artist into and through a crowd of 2,000+ cheering, touching, feeling, admiring fans.
Madeleine and my wife Becky bring up the end of this rockin procession.
The Who's "Won't Be Fooled Again" rings out from a giant sound system. I sense in this moment what it must feel like to be a rock star and saunter into a crowd of fans.
Friends from a decade ago reach though the throng to touch Max, then me.
Media swarm the Fine Arts Center, and for two days, Max becomes the cosmic center of the known universe in Southern Colorado.
Something else happened the day I met Peter, a profound moment of reflection and sadness. I stood in one of the galleries to witness Max-enhanced portraits of 343 firefighters who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 and 13 others who lost their lives during 2001.
A man who once artistically defined a rebellious generation has found a contemporary way to express its mature and sober reflections — of life's fragility, the spiritual and ephemeral.
Peter Max is a man, like all others in the flesh, which is always a curious moment when meeting an icon for the first time. But forevermore, he is an artistic legend. He has given my generation context and charisma.
He still is.