Saturday, January 18, 2020

Official Presentation Card for Peter Max's amazeballs 1974 U.S. stamp

This is an Official (Psychedelic) Presentation Card (No. 285 of 10,000) that accompanied the release of the United States' 10¢ Preserve the Environment stamp on April 18, 1974. The stamp ⁠— 135 million of them were printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing ⁠— was released in conjunction with Expo '74, which was held in Spokane, Washington, and described as "the first environmentally themed world's fair."

The stamp's illustration was done by German artist Peter Max, whose bright and jazzy style is well-associated with the 1960s and 1970s. Here's the information from the back of the presentation card, which measures 6 inches by 9 inches:
"Peter Max, perhaps the best known artist in the world, was commissioned to design this stamp for the World's Fair. The only one to be held in the United States in this decade. The perfect artist to interpret the Expo's theme 'Preserve the Environment', Peter's work has always reflected his involvement in nature. Peter's stamp art from his 'Cosmic' style both depicts the beauty of our yet unspoiled Earth and graphically prepares us for the sparkling galaxies of the future. The Stamp's main character is a male figure the artist calls the 'Cosmic Jumper'. It is running through the unique Peter Max Universe inhabited by people, flora, and animals representative of the environment. To the right of the 'Cosmic Jumper' is a head in profile that Peter defines as a 'Smiling Sage' celebrating tomorrow's fresh new environment. As one critic said, 'Joy and exuberance are a by-product of every Peter Max creation.'"
The presentation card, published by Fleetwood, gets extra points for being printed on recycled paper. It features, as you can see, a different Max illustration than the one used on the stamp. I wonder if that's the "Cosmic Jumper" in a different outfit, or perhaps one of his sidekicks.

According to the United States Postal Service, the modeler for this stamp was Ronald C. Sharpe. (I'm guessing that's the person who handles the type elements and other parts of the design that don't relate to the primary artwork.)

Much has been written about Max's six-decade career and how he essentially created the artistic backdrop for an era. He explained some of this himself in his 2012 book of biographical essays, The Universe of Peter Max. And he remembered the anniversary of this 1974 stamp in a Facebook post to mark Earth Day in 2018:

But, sadly, there might be a question as to whether Max himself wrote that Facebook post. A May 2019 article in The New York Times by Amy Chozick tells the sad and bizarre tale of people who appear to be taking advantage of Max's dementia:
"Several years ago, he received a diagnosis of symptoms related to Alzheimer’s, and he now suffers from advanced dementia. Mr. Max, 81, hasn’t painted seriously in four years, according to nine people with direct knowledge of his condition. He doesn’t know what year it is, and he spends most afternoons curled up in a red velvet lounger in his apartment, looking out at the Hudson River.

"For some people, Mr. Max’s decline spelled opportunity. His estranged son, Adam, and three business associates took over Mr. Max’s studio, drastically increasing production for a never-ending series of art auctions on cruise ships, even as the artist himself could hardly paint."
It is a depressing final chapter of Max's life. Also depressing is this: Max helped to put a "stamp" on the pro-environment movement that was taking place in 1974 ... and what can we truly say we've accomplished for Planet Earth in the 46 years since then?

As Chozick wrote in the Times: "(Max's) DayGlo-inflected posters became wallpaper for the turn on, tune in, drop out generation." Maybe there's still time for his artwork to inspire more of us in the current generation to tune in to reality and get busy fixing it. Isn't that what the "Cosmic Jumper" would want?

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