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June 22 - September 1, 2008 at Orange County Museum of Art, Orange County

by Peter Clothier

For his latest edition of “The Art of Outrage,” now posted on ArtScene Visual Radio (, host Peter Clothier spoke with Saul on the occasion of his major retrospective at the Orange County Museum of Art.  Says Clothier, “Since the early 1960s Peter Saul has been a gadfly in the art world, dancing solely to the tune of his own highly idiosyncratic piper. He has joyfully embraced social issues and public politics, satirizing the abuses and excesses of American culture in paintings that are unabashedly lively, colorful, decidedly uncool, sometimes surreal and often grotesque, punch line funny and, yes, painfully accurate in skewering their targets.” Clothier took the opportunity of the Orange County Museum of Art’s big summer retrospective of Saul’s career to interview the artist.

Peter Saul at work.

ArtScene is pleased to publish these excepts from that interview, which is posted in its entirety at the AVR website.  In the same program look for Clothier’s interview with artist Tony de los Reyes, who most recent exhibition appeared earlier in the spring at Carl Berg Gallery.

"Fall of Constantinople (1453
A.D.)," 2004, acrylic on canvas.

"Donald Duck Crucifixion",
1964, oil on canvas,

"CO Itchee Bitchee," 1964,
pastel crayon, marker on paper.

"Icebox Number 7,"
1963, oil on canvas.

PC:  I must confess right at the top that I see us sharing the same political agenda.

PS:  Everybody I know is the same way politically.  I think I’ve never met anybody of the other persuasion.

PC:  How many works will be on view at the Orange County Museum?

PS:  This is really embarrassing, but I’m not sure how many works are involved. I don’t concentrate on the past because I think it’s bad luck for the painting I’m working on. On a certain level the show will be a surprise for me.

PC:  So you’re leaving all of the decisions to the curator?

PS:  No, no I make my wishes known.  But then if it gets bogged down I leave it alone.

PC:  So it sounds like you are very busy. . .

PS:  I am.  I don’t have any special issues.  I frankly enjoyed having Bush, he was a good subject, and I’m extremely grateful for his misbehavior and craziness. When it comes to being an artist, I picked Bush because he was an authority figure and I like being against authority figures.  I simply feel most comfortable with myself in the position of being rebellious. I don’t picture winning or persuading.  I picture instead my own life as a person: trying to be romantic.  Being a painter involves having a great deal of calm, looking at the picture.

PC:  Do you start your paintings with an idea?

PS:  Something to paint, a subject, is my starting point.  Without that I don’t start at all. I turn it over in my head to find an angle.  I try to see a subject from my American cultural viewpoint. I think about John Wayne movies, which I never saw and have no intention of seeing.  But I think about them anyway in my imagination. And comic books that I can’t remember even the names of hardly. I simply let the subject rattle around in my head. At some point I’ll make a little sketch.  It has to have some possibility.

I draw the subject many times, maybe six or seven times, until I get it where I want it in terms of lines, and then I start painting.  I always have to change it some, here and there. When it’s nearly done I look at it more carefully, and always I find flaws. So I use some glazes of oil paint on top of the acrylic, and then it’s done and I forget all about it, and move on to the next subject.

PC:  Despite the disasters of the Bush administration, the war and things of that kind you still seem to have a rather sunny outlook.

PS:  I do, but that’s out of fear. I’ve been told that when you get older you tend to have a more gloomy outlook. So my thought is if you don’t complain then you’re not getting older, which is what I want to avoid.

PC:  It seems to me that the joy you evidently take in color really acts in a paradoxical relationship to the message.

PS:  That’s true.  I’m doing my best to be like Rubens to the best of my ability. Mostly I’m grateful to my subject matters for being something I can use.  If I can find something to paint, a good subject, I feel grateful, and I paint it with enthusiasm.

PC:  I called you up thinking that that I would meet an outraged artist.

PS:  If I hadn’t come across as being sincerely outraged I don’t think I would have had any shows or attention. Because I think Americans insist, more or less, on people being authentic.  It’s like these recent fake memoir people, I feel close to them.

PC:  Do you think the world has changed substantially since 9/11?

PS:  9/11 didn’t make as big a dent on me as most people, because I remember President Roosevelt talking on December 7, 1941, saying “This day will live forever in infamy.”  Well it just lasted a few years and then we were buying Japanese cars. I don’t think this moment will last in infamy either.

PC:  I’m thinking about that picture you made of Hilton Kramer and Peter Schjeldahl.

PS:  Oh gosh, I’ll do it again better.  I’m sorry that picture wasn’t a better painting, it’s a good subject.  

PC:  Why did you paint them committing suicide?

PS:  I just thought it would be an amusing thing.

PC:  What words of wisdom might you be sharing with your students these days?

PS:  I do teach whenever I can.  The kind of thing I’ve been saying is what I’ve been saying to you.  I don’t know how it goes over, though, because [once they have completed school] I never meet them again.  Some students would pick me, and we wouldn’t get along very well.  They wanted a sincere project that they could solve.  Most just wanted an ‘A’ and that was it, away they went. I was left with a tiny handful who wanted to be artists, and 3 or 4 have.

PC:  Are you looking forward to this retrospective?

PS:  Yes, I admit that I have been, and I especially look forward to the book.  I believe in the value of a good book.