LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Peter Max, known for his colorful canvases and psychedelic portrayal of cultural icons, became friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton after the 1993 inauguration — they told him they had posters of his on their dorm room walls in college.
"I was beyond belief thrilled," Max said.
Now, the pop artist's work is on three floors of the museum of the Clinton Presidential Center for a show that begins Monday and runs through May 25.
The show includes Max's depiction of presidents, American symbols such as the White House and the Statue of Liberty, and other images of his adopted country and beyond.
Max, 71, recalled in a phone interview being at Clinton's first inauguration, with a seat just a few feet from where Clinton took the oath of office. Beforehand, Max had painted 100 portraits of Clinton. Three panels featuring 64 of those portraits are now hanging on the library's second floor.
"Bill Clinton is the one that is the centerpiece of all the amazing people I've painted," Max said.
The exhibition, "Peter Max Paints America," works as a retrospective. It includes a painting in realist style from 1964, but also ink blots from the same year, one in a starburst of color that looks like a tie-dye pattern. There are plenty of presidents and celebrities. Jimmy Carter in a hardhat and Bob Dylan, with bushy hair and wearing sunglasses, bordered in pink and white and yellow designs of flowers and ovals.
Portraits of Bill and Hillary greet patrons as they walk in the first-floor gallery. Folks will have to walk behind a partition to reach a painting of George W. Bush. The informal-look portrait of Carter is on a panel beside a series of images — wildly colored but with grave expressions — of Dwight Eisenhower, William Howard Taft and Franklin Roosevelt.
Abraham Lincoln, with red bow tie, is nearby, as is a wispy, long-necked take on Thomas Jefferson. A Barack Obama portrait is in the mix. The works were still being hung on Thursday, with gloved workers referring to charts prepared by Max's New York studio, which worked with models of the exhibition spaces to decide where the 200-plus pieces would best fit.
On the second floor are several sculptures — an 8-foot Coca-Cola bottle and a guitar that's almost as big. Much smaller is a bronze Statue of Liberty, painted blue with splashes of gold, red and yellow.
The painting of George W. Bush came about when he did a number of portraits of notable people for a TV show. A producer called and said he needed one more painting. "Who?" Max asked. "George W." came the answer.
"I go, `Great,' and I paint him and send a copy to him. I sent a copy to his father, too," Max said.
Despite his reverence for Clinton, Max has no harsh words about George W. Bush, or, for that matter about anyone else — just like his optimism shows through the primary colors of his acrylics and oils.
"I see everything through rainbow eyes," Max said.
Max noted that he knows George H.W. Bush.
"He's a very sweet man, Max said. "I think it's very nice that he and Clinton have buddied up. That's what America really is."
Four paintings at the front of the third-floor gallery constitute a series of landscapes depicting the seasons. Max's famous image of the word "Love" with a human figure on top is there, along with Janis Joplin on a motorcycle, line drawings, posters and a corner with photos and text about his early life.
Max was born in Berlin, moved to Shanghai at age 1 and spent the next 10 years there.
"I discovered America from Shanghai," Max said.
He did so by first listening to American swing music on the radio, then through movies at a theater owned by the parents of a friend. Though he wanted to be an astronomer, Max took art classes because he was good at drawing.
Schooled as a realist, he soon found his way with abstract images that synthesized his fascination with the cosmos with technical ability. His tenure as a starving artist lasted only a few months.
Max and his wife of 12 years, Mary, intend to be on hand for a series of booked-up events to mark Monday's opening. Max will give a workshop for teachers, a lecture and will sign posters. Tickets for the events were free — and gone within a couple hours of becoming available.
Clinton himself is scheduled to be in Little Rock later in the week.
Max has had dozens of museum shows over the past 40 years, but he said placing his work at the Clinton Presidential Center is a career highlight.
"When Bill Clinton was elected, everybody in the U.S. was so enormously excited this good-looking, energetic, tall, highly charismatic human being is going to be president of the United States," Max said.
"As an artist, I like looking at him. Those facial manners, just how he is. Beloved by America. Also, of course, his intelligence," Max said.
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