Peter Max, paleoartists, and package design

I got an acetylene torch for my high school graduation present, and went off to art school intending to become the next David Smith or Richard Serra.

Then I met Peter Max. 

AMNH Image andMax

Viktor Deak's Hominids with Peter Max

I had always enjoyed the 3 dimensional quality and the structural solidity of the metal sculpture I was doing at the time. But naturally as a young art student had a very naive sense of how art was created, marketed, and sold. One of my jobs while at school was working for a Philadelphia art gallery, and it quickly taught me the commercial and political side of the art world. And Peter Max, who exhibited at the gallery at the time, was a cynical master of both. Without going into the details, he almost single handedly turned me off to the notion of becoming a sculptor.

As an aside I went to a Yankees game recently and saw that Peter Max is the “official” artist of the new stadium, with a big gallery space on the main concession level  .  .  .  almost enough to make me a Red Sox fan. 

Now I say almost single handedly turned me off to being a sculptor, because by this point I had already begun to fall for the irresistible charms of typography, logotypes, photography, illustration and the wonderful way the best package designers combine them into their own 3 dimensional, yes even sculptural objects. Package design seemed like a great way to combine my new interests in graphic design with my continued interest in creating 3-dimensional objects.

A piece in the NY Times, on the paleoartist Viktor Deak, caught may attention. Like me, he has found a way of combining two interests into a career. In his case paleontology and sculpture, in my case graphic design and sculpture. Working from the inside out, he creates sculptural images of humans and other animals for places like the American Museum of Natural History, from the bones and fossils given to him by paleontologists.

It might be a stretch, but package designers and paleoartists are working in much the same way, just with way different materials.

He starts with the bones and a set of theoretical information given to him by scientists and gradually builds the 3-dimensional image of an early hominid. We start with the same kind of limited information, build on the history of the product given to us by the marketers, and then gradually design a package that is our best representation of the brand.  

Two fascinating combinations of science and art.


The image above combines the work of Viktor Deak, from an exhibit showing how reconstructions are made, at the American Museum of Natural History, with Peter Max. Apologies to Viktor Deak.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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3 Responses to Peter Max, paleoartists, and package design

  1. Daisy says:

    Great read! Just wondering though… who is the hominid on the right and how did a Peter Max exhibit turn you off to becoming a sculptor?


    • The hominid on the right is Peter Max, and perhaps I could be convinced to go into the details of my Peter Max experience at the Philly gallery in another post.

      • Daisy says:

        The picture on the Max website is that of a much younger man — but as you’ve shown he looks old enough to be Darwin’s missing link.

        I stumbled upon your wonderful blog looking to learn more about package design. However the Philly gallery story sounds like it would make for a fantastic blog post.


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