Search the Collections

Peter Saul
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
San Francisco
Known for his brightly-colored and politically-incorrect art done in a cartoon-like style, Peter Saul’s works contain biting social and political criticism on such subjects as war, drugs, racism, sex, money and politicians, as well as parodies of classic works of art. His style has been described as neo-Surrealistic and he is seen by some as the father of Pop Art. Born in San Francisco in 1934, Saul studied for a year at Stanford University, then pursued art at the California School of Fine arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) from 1950 to1952. He graduated from the School of Fine Art at Washington University in St. Louis with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree in 1956. Saul then spent eight years in Europe, first in the Netherlands for two years, in Paris for four years, ending in Rome. While in Rome the Surrealist artist Roberto Matta (1911-2002) introduced Saul to Allan Frumkin (1927-2002), an art dealer with galleries in Chicago and New York. Frumkin bought several of Saul’s drawings on the spot, starting a relationship lasting for more than 30 years. Frumkin gave Saul his first solo show in Chicago in 1961, following by a New York solo show in 1962. Frumkin would put on 19 one-man exhibitions for Saul over the years. Almost more importantly, from their first meeting Frumkin began paying Saul a monthly stipend that continued for decades. Saul painted such subjects as ice boxes filled with steaks, daggers and toilets and “Superman in the Electric Chair,” in a style that would become known as Pop Art. Saul’s works appeared solo exhibitions in Los Angeles, Paris, Rome and Turin and in group shows in Chicago, Lausanne, Paris and Rome during the early 1960s. Saul’s father died while Saul’s parents were vacationing in Egypt in 1964. His mother met Saul in Rome and promised to give her son and his then-wife Vicki funds for a down payment on a house if they would move near her in Marin County, Calif., which they did. They purchased a house in Mill Valley, near the home of the painter William T. Riley (b. 1937), who became a close friend and introduced Saul to his circle of artists. By the middle of the decade Saul began painting overtly political works, some with brutal depictions of politicians and many criticizing the war in Vietnam. When Peter Selz (b. 1919) organized “Funk,” his seminal exhibition at the University of California’s Berkeley Art Museum in 1967, he selected Saul’s “Saigon” (1967, Whitney Museum of American Art) for the show. The San Francisco Art Institute gave Saul a solo show in 1968. He also exhibited in several group shows in San Francisco during the late 1960s. Saul and his wife Vicki separated in 1973, and soon he and his new partner Sally moved to Port Costa, Calif. After two years the San Francisco art dealer Rena Bransten (b. 1933) offered to let the Sauls live in an estate she inherited in Chappaqua, N.Y. Notable works from the late 1970s included parodies of Rembrandt van Rijn’s (1606-1669) “The Night Watch” and Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973) “Guernica.” They lived in Chappaqua for six years, until in 1981 he accepted a teaching position at the University of Texas, Austin. Saul taught there and painted (including a number of self-portraits) until his retirement in 2000, when he and Sally returned to New York City, where they continue to live and create art. Saul’s honors include a Copley Foundation grant (1962), Art in America New Talent Award (1962), grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (1979, 1985), a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (1993), an Arts and Letters award (2002) from and membership (2010) in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Artists’ Legacy Foundation award (2008), membership in the National Academy (2012) and the Francis J. Greenburger Award (2013). (TNB 7/2016) Selected bibliography: Cameron, Dan, Michael Duncan and Robert Storr. Peter Saul. Exhibition catalog. Newport Beach: Orange County Museum of Art; Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2008.