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Peter Saul Doesn’t Want Any Advice

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Looking at Saul’s works, with their scenes of melting faces and psychotropic delirium, it’s easy to imagine the artist on a 60-year bender — agitated, consuming any number of illicit and mind-altering substances. But he is in fact the opposite of that: even-keeled, patient, gentle. He speaks softly. There’s no opium in sight. “I never used drugs, I was too frightened. I thought the sheriff would be right outside the door. Basically, I wanted to live a calm life,” he said, adding, “I mean I’ve committed a few felonies. I’m not completely gutless.”

Saul gets his kicks elsewhere, like slaughtering modern art’s sacred cows. He’s painted the Mona Lisa throwing up and Donald Duck dupes wailing on Mondrian’s grids (“that was pretty good”). “Attack on Abstraction,” from last year, is a neon dust cloud of flying bullets, knives and chain saws poking out from gestural brush strokes. “The thing is, bottom line, is the painting sufficiently interesting to look at that a normal adult can look at it without studying Artforum for six months and taking a couple of courses?”

“Pleasantness was the rule when I was growing up,” he continued. “It’s back again now, I believe. Oh well.” I told Saul I think it’s pretty obvious he isn’t interested in making pleasant pictures. “God,” he said, “I hope so.” Below are his answers to T’s Artist’s Questionnaire.

What is your day like? What’s your work schedule?

I have no fixed schedule. I try to work all the time, but often feel like sitting on the porch. Most likely my time in the studio is about noon to 7:30, with time off for lunch and a short nap.

When you start a new piece, where do you begin?

No fixed place to begin — depends on the imagery, what I’m painting a picture of.

What’s the first work you ever sold, and for how much?

In Paris, 1959, at the Salon de Jeune Peinture. I sold a painting, sort of crazy-looking — like now, pretty much — to a high official in the French Communist Party for $90. I was thrilled and totally surprised.


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