The rebellious painter and the subversive sculptor share a renovated studio in their upstate New York compound, where each serves as the other’s champion.
“I’ve had two lucky moments,” says painter Peter Saul. “The first one was way back in the 1950s, when I met an art dealer who would support me for the next 33 years. The next was in 1973, when I met Sally.” As art world couples go, the Sauls have to be one of the most enduring. Sally, an accomplished sculptor, was born in Albany, New York; Peter grew up in San Francisco. After some youthful meanders, they both migrated to the Bay Area, where they were introduced by mutual friends. That was 50 years ago.
Peter had been painting for a couple of decades already, developing a twisted, rubbery style in which his figures—caricatures pulled from American nightmares, from politicians to activists to soldiers—contort until they’re nearly abstract. He says his use of DayGlo paint has less to do with psychedelia than with the desire to snap viewers’ attention to certain parts of a composition. These trippy qualities don’t come from drugs—at least not directly—but from comics. “If you’ve got a gun on one side of the canvas and a person who’s pressing the trigger on the other side, their arm just has to reach out,” he says. If the canvas is “interesting,” to a “normal person,” then it goes out the door. Peter’s career trajectory matches his irrepressible style. “I didn’t think of myself as an artist, really,” he admits. “I thought of myself as a rebel against the idea of a normal workday. I wanted to stay home with a beautiful woman and do anything I wanted.” He’s pretty much succeeded.