Peter Max: The Madonna of the commercial art world


Not everyone in Seattle works for Microsoft


by Alison Gates

July 1999

Earnesto is married to Ivana with whom Pam went to high school. Anyway, Pam told me Ivana and Earnesto had these invitations to a lecture by Peter Max this Saturday at Pacific Place mall here in downtown Seattle and that we should go. I was totally up for the lecture, but on Friday Pam's mom Bonnie had been to Pacific Place and had sort of crashed a reception at the gallery where Max was showing, Pam's niece Amy (age 9) in tow. Amy was less than impressed with the show. Her comment: "Been there, seen that." We should have listened.

Saturday morning I found myself at Pacific Place and went in search of the gallery to ask about the "lecture." As it turned out, the artist was not lecturing, he was just making himself available to the public for the three nights of receptions. The very nice, very blond woman at the gallery also told me I should look around then, because the gallery would be filled with people that evening - oh and did she mention that Peter Max is the only artist who is actually licensed to use the imagery from Walt Disney in his works? Oh, well...

We go anyway, and are amused to find the artist is being followed by a camera crew, complete with a big-ass phallus of a boom-mike. Each time someone purchases an original Max (or a Max appropriation of someone else's work) he signs and draws a little picture on the back, then they all pose with the art and get a picture taken. This makes me want to laugh, but I decide it's rude. Earnesto finally approaches me and begins to chat about things which have nothing to do with the show. Finally he confesses that he is disturbed by the signs that say, "interest free financing" which are sprinkled liberally amongst the artworks, on full 8 1/2" x 11" paper. We find Ivana and Pam; Pam asks if I think that painting would look good in her kitchen - we discuss color theory and appetite stimulators. At some point, the artist and his camera crew stumble in our general direction and Earnesto pretty much accosts the guy to tell him that he had visited the Peter Max website and found it wonderful in its animation. Earnesto goes on to introduce us, Max shakes hands with limp palm, and then Peter Max asks if we work at...Microsoft.

Earnesto says no, an insurance company, but he is an artist and he indicates I am also an artist. Pam and I both chime in independently that not everyone in Seattle works at Microsoft! Max is less than impressed. It was literally as if air had been let out of his tire of interest. The boom mike seems to become flaccid and retracts, the camera lights go off, and Max attempts to beat a hasty retreat, while Earnesto continues to talk to him about some aspect of the website. When finally Max extracts himself from our little group we look at each other in amazement, as it becomes clear we've been in the presence of an honest to goodness man who MAKES MONEY with his art - and is interested in nothing else! I say, he's the Madonna of the commercial art world.

Later Earnesto indicates that I should have told him I had to resign my position at Microsoft when I became engaged to Paul Allen and went to work for the Total Experience project. I think, given the fact that I get awfully good tables in restaurants these days, that I will now make a point of introducing myself with my full name. I would like to at least be treated like a human being. And I am, after all, The One True Gates.

Alison "The One True" Gates can be reached at

Visit the official Peter Max website at