Peter Saul

No Convictions

  • In the field of Modern Art, if you follow the rules, you’re dead.1

    One could call Peter Saul a rebel, but that might sound like too much of a label to him.  True only to his instincts, Saul's imagination and irreverent humor have kept him and his work thriving while, around him, fads have come and gone. With little use for politics, and none for ideology, Saul channels his energy into the "psychology" of the work. 

    On the occasion of his retrospective, Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment, at the New Museum in New York, we thought we'd share some of Saul's own words, anecdotes, and the prints he made along the way.


  • "White Sex" (1966)

    While Saul was living in Rome, from 1960 to 1964, his landlord rented him a farm building to use as a studio.  At a certain point, the landlord offered him a small room in a church instead, with the caveat that he could not paint on Sunday mornings. So, in a bare concrete room behind the altar of the Catholic church, Saul set up his studio and the Crucifixion began appearing in his work.  It is front and center by 1966, when Saul created his first lithograph. Saul printed White Sex himself, as a small edition of 10.


  • "Amboosh" (1967)

    One of Saul’s most famous prints, Amboosh, 1967, is based on a painting of the same name. The collection of grotesque acts and propaganda items creates a scene of hyper-sensationalism. Again, the Crucifixion plays a role in the shocking composition, pointing out the hypocrisies within the US response and involvement in the Vietnam War. Saul captures the brutality, racism and destruction of the conflict with a signature dark humor.


  • "World of America, No. 2" (1967)
  • Art historians have striven to categorize those works by their affinity to Expressionism, Surrealism, and English Pop art, but, as with everything Saul, including his drive-by relation to funk and psychedelia in San Francisco, in the hippie sixties, the links don’t hold.2


  • "Angela Davis" (1972)

    Saul criticized everything, never one to shy away from difficult subjects.  Angela Davis (1972), preceded the painting Crucifixion of Angela Davis (1973), on view at the New Museum, in which the activist is stuck with knives and sports a halo.  These works might equally be seen as tweaking the left’s deification of Davis or as a condemnation of her persecution by the government. 


  • In 1981, Saul was offered a teaching position at the University of Texas, Austin, where he lived and worked until returning to New York in 2001. It was here where he printed many of his editions. In the 1980s, in particular, Saul’s focus on political figures heightened. 

    My honest feeling about politics in art is that it’s usually feeble because it delivers the expected message, and expected messages are dead on arrival. All it does is point out that good guys are good, bad guys are bad, women need rescuing, now they’re strong instead and so on and so on. I wanted work that was far, far more troubling.3


  • "Politics" (1985)
  • "Pulling it Off" (1987)
  • "Origins of Captain Marvel" (2003)

    Saul is interested in narrative painting, but that narrative does not need to conform to any particular theme. If the picture doesn’t have a story or psychology—preferably an unpleasant psychology—it doesn’t work for him.  From a young age, Saul had a love of hellacious comic books, particularly Crime Does Not Pay.  In his own work, Saul is uninterested in expected tropes and outcomes.


  • "Modern Home" (2003)
  • "Self Portrait with Haircut" (2003)
  • Footnotes

    1. In the field of Modern Art... Peter Saul in Conversation with Massimiliano Gioni (February 27, 2020)

    2. Art historians have striven to categorize those works...  Peter Schjeldahl, the New Yorker (February 10, 2020)

    3. My honest feeling about politics in art... Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment Audio Guide: Human Dignity (New Museum)


    All works of art © Peter Saul

    Video and audio interviews recorded at Pace Editions in February 2017 (© Pace Editions)