You certainly can’t mistake Peter Saul for any other artist. Splurges of lime green or spaghetti sauce red, gross caricatures of politicians, flamboyant sexual fantasies … His art is the American dream pumped up and injected with steroids, served with a hot dog and a tube of mustard coloured acrylic.
Food analogies leap to mind when describing his work, because he confuses food and paint, gooey colours and infantilist appetites. Just as his fellow pop artist Ed Ruscha painted maple syrup and Claes Oldenburg made a giant burger sculpture, his art is a fast food emporium of sticky sauces and fatty snacks.
In his current exhibiton at Michael Werner, London, he admits in the exhibition title to “some terrible problems” and portrays himself with his brain spewing out. That seems a reasonable summing up of his totally uninhibited art. Saul started as a Pop artist and his art exhibits classic Pop features, such as including cartoon characters and other modern icons. Yet his rollercoaster style has little in common with the cool views of modern life we associate with Andy Warhol or Richard Hamilton. He is extremely uncool, unsophisticated, unburdened by self-consciousness: a self-mocking artist who never seems to have taken himself seriously.
In his painting Superman and the Super Dogs Find God in the Asteroid Belt (2016), the shiny blue suits of Superman and his dogs glow against a bright orange space while God is a bright green cyclops on a cross. It’s not exactly reverent. Meanwhile, in his Abstract Expressionist Still Life (2016) lurid cherry and chocolate sauces, a wedge of cheese and – yes – a hot dog are entangled together in a rollicking parody of Jackson Pollock’s energy. Did he paint it because he knew he’d be showing in London at the same time as the abstract expressionists in the Royal Academy? Saul has no respect, for himself or anyone else. In the Reagan era he painted absurd portraits of the Republican president. What might he do with Donald Trump?
In Thomas Pynchon’s novel V, sailors at a bar drink from taps shaped like breasts. Saul’s art inhabits a similarly surreal fantasy America where desires are instantly gratified as food, sex and art merge into one hilarious feast. Pollock’s car, instead of crashing and killing him, has a soft landing in a mess of chocolate sauce.
I’d eat at Peter Saul’s diner any day. Give me a stack of his painted pancakes and melt some goo over them, please.