Peter Saul: Some Terrible Problems
Time Out London
Chris Waywell
27 September 2016

There’s a painting in this show called ‘Abstract Expressionist Still Life’. It’s a kind of swirling torrent of shit, ketchup and cartoonish, ’50s cars, plus some other bits and pieces. It’s not abstract, expressionist or a still life. It looks like a pisstake of pop art, maybe. And that’s Peter Saul in a nutshell. Now in his eighties, the San Francisan is one of the originators of pop, but he’s always done his own thing, to the extent that he’s almost regarded as an outsider artist. In the past his work has injected a political element into the suffused surface of liquid detail – glistening sausages squirming around Reagan’s face, George W fingering a bullet-pocked corpse, all kinds of American consumer motifs. These works, although not quite so manic, have all Saul’s trademarks, especially his sickly saturated colour. They’re painterly, in a way that pop wasn’t supposed to be – there’s nothing mass-produced about Saul. They’re rather old-fashioned, actually. They remind me of René Magritte’s ‘vache’ (‘cow’) paintings from the ’40s, or the hallucinatory cartoons of Jim Woodring. There’s a singularity of purpose about them at odds with the subject material. They remind you that the crassness and brashness and shouty Technicolor palette of pop could be a means, not just an end. They are quiet and thoughtful works, and all the more satisfying for that.