The '70s was a free-spirited time when many people become more aware of the environment and were actively trying to protect it. Peter Max used his creative skills during that era to promote the message that people should care about the planet — and he continues with that mission today.
"I had my own life as an artist, but many of my young hippie friends were joining communes and learning about natural foods and being good stewards of our planet and sharing what they were learning and living with me," Max told MNN. "We became more aware of our planet."
Max said a major wake-up call was the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969. At that time, it was the largest oil spill in U.S. history. "Thousands of seabirds, seals and dolphins died, and that brought attention to environmental protections. We were suddenly made aware of pollution, incineration and waste, and began to promote mass transit, anti-littering and cleaning up our part of the world and recycling."
Then in 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated, and one of the largest gatherings was in New York City. "It was a festive, carnival-like atmosphere with a purpose. People were walking in the streets, dancing and raising awareness. Kids were off from school and were cleaning up the streets, sidewalks and parks with brooms. People were picking up litter."
Max was commissioned to create art for the city's buses. "Fifty million people would see 'Art in Transit' — reminding them to take buses and subways and to walk when possible instead of driving cars in the city."
"There was a real increased interest in mass transportation to cut down on the cars in New York City. I was proud to be involved with raising awareness of these issues through my art. I felt very deeply about them, as so many people began to in the '70s."
From that first Earth Day event, Max said the environmental movement continued to grow and was on the forefront of many people's minds.
"We became more aware of our connection to nature, about being good stewards of our planet, conserving our land and natural beauty and resources, eating healthier, and human and animal rights. These issues rose up from a ground swell of consciousness of groups to larger platforms in the media and through the art of musicians, writers and visual artists."
Over the decades since, Max's passion for art and the environment has become known around the world. He has designed posters for various environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Save the Whales, The Dolphin Project, Save the Orangutans and events like the United Nations Earth Summit and Earth Day in 1992.
"I got involved as an artist because artists have always been connected to nature," said Max. "I had always featured our skies, stars, sunburst, waves, planets and Earth in my cosmic art of the '60s. Nature was always an inspiration to me and always left me awestruck."
Max says he truly believes that since the 1970s, people have become more actively involved in saving our planet and that things are better than they used to be.
"I think awareness has increased incredibly. Earth Day is celebrated in so many countries now. Most U.S. cities and towns have recycling programs, and things are repurposed amazingly for new needs ... Cars are much cleaner now, buildings are built and run more energy efficient now as well as household appliances. A lot of progress has been made."
While Max says he doesn't try to convey a specific message through his art, he does "aspire to paint beautiful images and things that inspire me or flow through me and often contribute them to causes that are important to me."
The message he most wants to share with people is "to keep conserving, recycling, reusing and not waste or spoil the beautiful planet and its resources that we have ... Try to make everyday Earth Day by doing something that keeps our planet clean and healthy."