The Peter Max — ACC Challenge

By Elaine Campbell
Special to St. John Tradewinds

A signed Peter Max print, above, showcases Max’s style.

St. John is an island full of artists. Some were born here. Some have lived here for many decades. Some have arrived very recently. And some come and go.

Our artists have founded an art association to sponsor exhibitions and to encourage sales. Beloved island resident Ed Bermingham was the guiding light behind the Artists Association of St. John, which grows stronger every year.

And one of our artists — one of those who come and go — has now reached out to help support another St. John association: the Animal Care Center (ACC).

The Challenge
Peter Max, the world-famous painter of bold-colored canvases, very recently offered a unique challenge to anyone who wished to own an original portrait of himself, herself, or a loved one.

The challenge, as the word denotes, is demanding. But the benefits are enormous. For Max’s standard portrait fee of $35,000, the person who accepts the challenge can acquire a signed original portrait and at the same time dramatically benefit the ACC.

Of that fee, Max will retain $4,000 to cover his operating expenses — he supports an office staff, incurs significant travel expenses, runs a publicity operation, maintains a New York City studio, as examples — but will donate $31,000 to St. John’s ACC.

Generating Interest
Since the Peter Max/ACC challenge was announced in early May, numerous people have expressed curiosity about the famous artist.

Although his paintings are instantly recognizable throughout the world, his personal life is not well known. He has owned a home on St. John for over a decade, but only a handful of St. Johnians know him.

An important aspect of Max’s life is his deep love for animals. Maia Mongie recalls that while in the island, he has quietly given money to local people to fee the hungry, homeless dogs who ran wild near his house.

Now, there are “wild” dogs because the ACC shelter provides a home, food, and medical care for them. In New York, where Max paints, he has a dog and five cats as companions in his home.

Meat Free Diet
His concern for animals extends so far that he will not eat meat. Bonny Corbeil remembers that Max was frequent client of her vegetarian restaurant Luscious Licks.

“He would come to Luscious Licks for breakfast and close Luscious Licks after dinner,” she said. “He’d sit enjoying my vegetarian cooking while doing sketches of people passing by. He even did a little portrait of me that I treasure.”

“I’d be happy to cook a vegetarian feast for him if he comes back to paint a portrait,” Corbeil added.

Exotic Personal History
Max’s personal history is nothing short of exotic. He grew up in China and lived there for 10 years. He began to paint there as a child because his nanny brought him paints and brushes.

When he was 10 years old, Max’s parents took him traveling across China to a Tibetan mountain camp at the foothills of the Himalayas. Then, they journeyed 9,000 feet up to a hotel at Max recalls as a “mountain paradise.”

After the family returned to Shanghai, they departed on another long journey — to India, around Africa, and finally to Israel. In Israel, Max became interested in astronomy — an interest that reappears frequently in his planet and star-studded paintings. When Max was 16, he and his family emigrated to the United States. Here was the land of Captain Marvel, Flash Gordon, jazz and the freedom to be creative. After high school, Max studied art at the Art Student’s League, a traditional art academy located in Manhattan.

From Realism to Cosmic
Max was taught how to paint in a realistic style. He experienced a “spontaneous creative urge,” however, that took him away from realism and to his cosmic 60s style — a style that catapulted the young artist to fame and fortune.

Anyone who wishes to accept Max’s fund raising challenge for the ACC, call ACC board member Elaine Campbell, who is listed in the phonebook. Only people seriously considering a Max portrait of yourself or of someone you love should call. Elaine’s email address is