Peter Saul’s work has connections with Pop Art, Surrealism, and Expressionism. His early use of pop culture cartoon references in the late 1950s and very early 1960s situates him as one of the fathers of the Pop Art movement. He realized about 800 paintings during his career.
Saul was born in San Francisco, California, and studied at the California School of Fine Arts from 1950 to 1952 and at Washington University in St. Louis from 1952 to 1956 before moving to Europe where he remained until 1964. Saul was inspired by 1940’s comic books such as Crime Does Not Pay, Plastic Man, and the painting Coney Island by Paul Cadmus that he saw reproduced in an art book his mother received from Book-of-the Month Club in 1939. After completing art school in 1956, he developed a brushy art style influenced by de Kooning. In 1958 he decided to incorporate cartoon images such as Donald Duck and Superman as subjects in his paintings after seeing an issue of Mad magazine in a Paris bookstore. Roberto Matta introduced his work to the dealer Allan Frumkin and in 1961, he had his first show at the Allan Frumkin Gallery in Chicago, followed in 1962 by simultaneous shows at Galerie Breteau in Paris and the Allan Frumkin Gallery in New York City. He was quickly classified as a Pop artist, albeit one with “too much paint”.
Saul is known for his genre-defying paintings satirizing American culture. Influenced by the cartoonish style of MAD Magazine, Saul uses Day-Glo color and lush forms as a foil for his nightmarish content. One of his most famous works, Saigon (1967), embodies the chaos and deformities that typify Saul’s scenes, offering the viewer a feverish candy colored vision of the Vietnam War. “I enjoy finding a low subject and bringing it up high,” he has said. “I think with strong technique, you can glamorize certain things. You can make the imagery sharper, rounder, and basically better looking.”
In 2008, a retrospective of his work was held at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, then traveling to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and finally the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans. In 2010, he was elected to the American Academy of Art and Letters. He currently lives and works between New York, NY and Germantown, NY. Today, Saul’s works are held in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California’ Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Sweden; Center Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, among others.
The first comprehensive survey of Peter Saul's oeuvre in Europe took place at Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, 2 June - 3 September 2017. The exhibition, consisting of over sixty works, then traveled to Deichtorhallen Hamburg, 30 September 2017 - 28 January 2018.