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Little Rock has been seeing double - and quadruple - in Technicolor for nearly three months now, thanks to the Andy Warhol exhibit. But though Warhol has left, pop art in all the colors of the rainbow stays on, with the "Peter Max Paints America" exhibit at the Clinton Library.
Where Warhol's Marilyns are about unapproachable celebrity, Max's portraits are democratic, approachable and unfailingly sunny. His subject matter is the face of 1960s psychedelia - stars, planets, long-striding men in bell bottoms - and, in the years since, American political icons: Presidents, the flag, the Statue of Liberty.
Max came to town for the opening of the exhibit Monday and greeted a crowd gathered by a giant parti-colored Coke bottle in the second floor atrium of the library. He talked about his Arkansas ties: His friendship with Sen. David Pryor and his wife, Barbara, whom he met at an exhibit of his work at the Arkansas Arts Center nearly 30 years ago. (His New York window looking out on the Hudson River is punctuated by a big blue glass rock the Pryors sent him from Hot Springs.) The Pryors introduced him to the Clintons, who chose him to create an inaugural poster; he followed that with 100 portraits of Clinton, awards for the Clinton Global Initiative, a portrait of Hillary. (Max's artwork is non-partisan; he's painted Reagan and the Bushes as well.)
Like Warhol, Max uses silkscreens of photographs as the jumping off point for his portraits; unlike Warhol (who he used to spend weekends with hunting for collectible cookie jars), Max surrounds the images with thick, sweeping multi-color brushstrokes. They are loose, gestural and upbeat; their vitality may derive from the fact that the 71-year-old artist paints with 7 pounds of weights on each arm every day, on the theory that strong arms lengthen life. Viewers will also get to see some of Max's work that does not rely on the photograph, like his "Man on the Moon," and these, to my way of thinking, are some of the most interesting pieces in the show.
The exhibit, which will later be accompanied by an exhibit of school kids' embellishments of one of Max's line drawings, runs through March 28.
I asked Max if he knew about Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art that Alice Walton was building in Bentonville. He was dimly aware of the project, but he got the flash of an idea: He'd like do a poster for the museum's opening. Consider that idea floated.
Last week, Crystal Bridges announced a third 21st century sculptural piece that will be part of the collection: "Saul and Christ on the Road to Damascus," by Fisk University art instructor Ted Jones. The 7-foot-tall sculpture is made of tree limbs that Jones told an audience in Bentonville last week that he was gathering up for the trash; they form a man on a horse. Jones was in town to talk about the exhibit "Proof Positive: Master Prints from the Collection of Fisk University Galleries," now at Crystal Bridges at the Massey.
Argenta Studios in the First Presbyterian Church at 4th and Main in North Little Rock will host the artists of M2 Gallery for the 3rd Friday Artwalk Feb. 20. The Argenta Artwalk will feature work by 20 artists in venues on Main Street and at the church from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.