Saturday, November 07, 2015

The Weird Art of a Visual Maverick


“I’ve concentrated heavily on the ability to be illusionistic
because major critics advise you not to.”

Peter Saul

To call the American painter Peter Saul the conscience of modern art maybe stretching the point, but the artists provocative works do propose more questions than they answer.

As the New York art critic Andrew Russeth wrote earlier this year in the Artnews magazine “He rubs racism, sexism, and xenophobia in your face. I love his paintings, and think they rank as one of the signal achievements of American postwar art, an improbable blending of surrealism, Pop, and comic styles. I also am deeply uncomfortable looking at them, knowing that a straight white guy is responsible, guiding the experience, doing the transgressing. His art forces tough questions about who has the right to cross various lines.

In the early 1960’s whilst living in Paris Saul started to incorporate comic art into his paintings utilizing bright colors along with the mayhem and violence prevalent in the more lurid versions of the genre.

As he told the Brooklyn Rail in 2010 “I have a sort of anti-authority feeling. It’s not America’s fault that it became deranged in my art. It’s the way I saw it because I needed to be an artist, and that was the only way I could get my personality into the thing.

A point he has elaborated on, stating “I don’t know why people who made modern art allowed rules to be imposed on them, rules of seriousness. I haven’t. It’s like being religious, and I don’t believe in anything except stop at the red light and start at the green and you’re less likely to get killed.”
Saul found art when he was at boarding school.

About which he has recalled “I was at this incredibly crazy school where, one afternoon a week, you had a choice between pursuing a hobby or hauling logs in the snow. No contest. I tried stamp collecting and that was a failure because the room devoted to stamp collecting had no heat, so you couldn’t even touch the stamps. They kept dropping on the floor and my fingers were numb. So my mother gave me this little box of paints. It was very upsetting to my parents that I wanted to be an artist. They presented it to me as a kind of family tragedy: “Who will take care of you after we’re dead?” I was treated like a crippled child.”

Now in his eighties, Saul's art career has little need for parental support with two concurrent New York exhibitions showing his work.

“I feel if the writers have the right to say anything then we got the right to do anything visually, but that’s not agreed with by a whole lot of people,” Saul has said. “They’re trying to boss around the visuals, but not me!”


Currently Saul has the solo exhibition Six Classics at Mary Boone’s 541 West 24th Street gallery and his work has been included in MoMA’s Long Island gallery space PS1 in the group exhibition Greater New York.


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