Courtesy New Museum of Contemporary Art/Peter Saul Private Collection/George Adams Gallery.
Some Questions for Peter Saul
Acid in both color and content, Peter Saul's cartoonish political commentaries are still outlandish and relevant 60 years on.
By Howard Halle
Why did you become an artist?
I didn't want to work in an office. I knew that by the time I turned 15.
From the late 1950s to the mid-'60s, you lived in Paris and Rome. How did you manage to start a career over there?
I didn't know what to do, and no one else knew, either. I heard of five or six American artists in Paris, but I didn't actually know their work because I'd.skipped art history: My teacher told me that if I didn't show up, he'd give me a B. Eventually, I managed to show my drawings to a dealer with galleries in Chicago and New York. He asked me how much I wanted for them. I said $15; he said,"I can do $25."
You were lucky.
I've been lucky all my life, but l hope I'm not going to pay for it with some huge disease, if you know what I mean.
The work you did then has been described as a precursor to Pop Art. Do you agree?
No. I didn't know about Pop Art, and I was pretty upset when I read about it because I thought it was my idea.
How did you come by it, since the action was in New York and you were in Europe?
I never paid any attention to New York because, first of all, I had a fear of flying due to the fact that I had just missed getting on a plane that crashed in a midair collision: But I wanted to get away from Abstract Expressionism. I got this idea from Mad magazine that you could tell a story with pictures, which no one was doing at the time. So I'd sit in a cafe, smoke Gauloises and come up with ideas, most of which were from memory.
Speaking of Mad, you've said that, even though you're in your eighties, you paint like a 15-year-old.
Well, yeah. I don't want to express maturity in my art.
Is that to keep your work edgy, radical and interesting?
Well, being interesting is one of my goals. It's a big one.
Do you see yourself as a rebel?
With a cause?
Other than my own well-being, no.