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Serial Offender Peter Saul @ Seventy-four

from the New York Times 

Provocateur: The Peter Saul Manifesto

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Peter Saul, who turns 74 on Saturday, is a classic artist’s artist, one of our few important practicing history painters and a serial offender in violations of good taste. His career, while long, steady and admired, has never exceeded cult status. It’s an example of can’t-see-the-tree-for-the-forest visibility.

The influence of Mr. Saul’s paintings, with their cartoony figures, lurid-lush colors, splatter-film expressionism and contrarian take on topical subjects, pervades recent art. It has contributed mightily to major careers, like those of Carroll Dunham and Elizabeth Murray. And it has paved the way for the neo-Surrealist noodlings of countless student painters spilling out of art schools and straight into the arms of a ravenous market.

Mr. Saul’s art is not pretty, though it has many eye-catching pleasures. Nor is it polite. Indeed, the artist makes zealous efforts to ensure the opposite. In America today, he says in a catalog interview, “there’s a tremendous need to not be seen as racist, not seen as sexist. So I want to make sure I am seen as those things.”

He succeeds. What museum would be the right one for a painting of a knife-wielding O. J. Simpson strapped down for execution as a buxom blond angel points to a blood-stained glove and intones, “This is why you have to die”? Or for a picture of Christopher Columbus slaughtering New World natives who themselves hold platters of chopped human limbs in their arms?

What is the appropriate place for art that stirs together John Wayne Gacy and Angela Davis, Mickey Mouse and Ethel Rosenberg, Stalin and Willem de Kooning, Basil Wolverton and George W. Bush, then spikes the broth with prickly references to capitalism, Communism, homophobia, feminism, Black Power, racism, pedophilia and art-world politics and — last but not least — to the aging, decaying, self-lacerating artist himself?

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Posted on August 16, 2008 by Editor

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