05. September 2016

Curator Martina Weinhart visits the artist Peter Saul who, at the age of 81, still enjoys jumping on a trampoline at his home in Upstate New York and works on his paintings every day.

By Martina Weinhart

London, Paris, New York: these are the common destinations – the “usual suspects” so to speak – of the circus that is the art world. It’s nice for the curator when she is able to travel somewhere off the beaten track. For American artist Peter Saul this also applies to a certain extent and next summer – in parallel to documenta 14 – the artist will be the subject of a solo exhibition at the SCHIRN.

Visiting Peter Saul in the countryside

This is very exciting for Peter Saul and rather special for all of us because it is the first major solo show he has ever held in Europe. The now 81-year-old artist is a typical “artist’s artist” – a star among (primarily younger) colleagues. Eric Fischl, Raymond Pettibon, KAWS, Joe Bradley and Jim Shaw are all fans of his. Yet he remains largely unknown to the broader public.

Disrespectful in the best sense

Allow me a brief introduction: A lover of adventure, following his time at art school he traveled in Europe, living in Amsterdam, Paris and Rome before moving back to San Francisco. In 1967 he took part in the now legendary “Funk” exhibition at the University Art Museum in Berkeley, which showcased the latest production in the Bay Area. Peter Saul took a disrespectful approach – in the best sense of the word – in tackling things relating to everyday life against the background of the beat generation and counterculture.

Peter Saul in his studio in Mill Valley, California, 1973

Pop was the key word here. Wit, slapstick, puns, comedy, pastiche, and often coarse humor are the materials for his caricatural attacks on high culture and the establishment. Long before “Bad Painting” became the phrase on everyone’s lips, Peter Saul was quite deliberately poking fun at “good taste”. Superman on the toilet – why not? And he resolutely maintained his approach. Fashions may have changed within art, but Peter Saul sticks stubbornly to his style and his content.

Off the beaten track

And even now he paints every day. I was able to see this for myself when I visited him at his studio in Germantown recently with the aim of using his archive for research for our catalog. He is in the midst of preparations for his exhibition in London in the fall. With quiet concentration we worked together, he on the first floor and I downstairs flicking through catalogs, photos and old invitations. For a curator this is a true privilege – not only to see the finished product, but to witness the development of the art, which again permits a deeper insight.

Works by Peter Saul and his trampoline in his studio

The level of concentration was also somewhat down to the location. Saul’s studio is far off the beaten track in Germantown – Upstate New York – in the Hudson Valley. It may appear rural, but there are a number of artists in the area. In nearby Tivoli, New York art star Brice Marden even runs a charming little hotel. Germantown itself was also home to another art star – Frederic Edwin Church – during the 19th century.

The public can now visit Olana, the Persian-inspired feudal residence of the landscape painter and friend of Alexander von Humboldt. Now though, the villa is a museum. Also close by is Annandale-on-Hudson, where the next generation of creatives is being educated at Bard College. From Germantown to Germany: Peter Saul makes the leap next summer.

Artist Peter Saul at work