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IT’S BEEN NICE GNAWING YOU

Like fashion, current art is seeking to “get over” the ’80s, and is looking to the ’70s and ’60s, that is, to the prehistory of that moment, to oedipally murder it. The uncannily excrementalized styles of the recent past appear so fresh, so “modern,” as they reemerge like platform shoes from recent total trend-repression. If appropriation art is the art-world version of big shoulder-pads, getting over Pop (while still being informed by it) is the Pepsi Challenge of the ’90s: you read it here first kids, Photorealism is coming back!
 
As one of our totally favorite strangely neglected painters who was in on the ground floor of Pop but never quite became canonized as one of its greatest hits, Peter Saul is not only back and sassy as ever, but he never really went away. OK he’s been teaching for years at the U. of Texas at Austin, which has recently erupted on the complexion of pop culture via the film Slacker. Saul said he knew one of the students in the film but he didn’t say which one.
 
Peter Saul should be worshiped as the precursor of all the post-Pop painting that’s going on now. Ever immune to Stately Male Syndrome, his painting is lush and fantastic and reflects his personal vision of consumer-culture sexuality and libidinal appliances in untight-assed painterly ways. In the ’60s, he was right out there with the anti-Vietnam stuff, thalidomide imagery, and provocative portraits of artists and dealers caught in unattractive acts of “homosocial bonding.” While we’re happy he was in the recent, splashy “Hand-Painted Pop” museum show, and rightfully so, we were disturbed that he was hardly mentioned in any of the writing about that show, as someone particularly resonant to painters now and deserving of his turn as a cult figure.
 
As total fans, Cary and I were both sort of mystified enough to be amazed that such a great painter would live a relatively quiet life teaching at the university: “They hired me because they thought my career was over 30 years ago:” He said that in all the years he’d been showing with Mr. Frumkin, we were like the second people from the New York art world that he met through the gallery. The first one died! Spending the day with him, we learned lots of life lessons. Cary marveled: “We could have a career for 30 years without people knowing about it and that’s OK!”
 
I should set the scene: as a neurotic anti-p.c. fag and a neurotic anti-p.c. woman, Cary and I wanted to pay homage to Saul publicly as an honored master in our underdog pantheon. We applaud him for his consistently “unfashionable” oeuvre. We bonded with him in dismay when he said that like half the women left the auditorium recently at a slide show of his work. Nevertheless, in retrospect the interview wound up giving me a vintage ’70s-style feminist consciousness-raising effect!
 
In one of the outtakes, Cary asks why Saul chose this rather uninteresting semiabstract lady landscape painter for an artist’s-choice show a while back. Saul said, Everybody picked their wife! But I didn’t like my wife so I picked somebody else’s. How charming for me to imagine all these validated guy artists “giving a break” to their significant others. While the guy is pushing 60, and these situations reflect the cultural ambiance of his time, I was particularly pierced with irony when he referred to the “depressing types of women” attracted to male artists. . . . I was glad I came of age now, when I have choices!
 
The whole interview, as usual, was a symptom of something. We’re grateful to Saul for frankly sharing his experience with us. I’m sharing my reaction in the desire to frame the interview and put it in perspective: it hovered in my mind as a fascinating stinky little cultural snapshot of the kind of attitude toward women that has produced so much well-intentioned but blechy p.c. art in recent years. One of the best things he said was how he likes to deal with political issues because they made him make better paintings, not because he felt, as a painter, that he was doing politics. We agree that you don’t have to be a “good person” to be a good artist and certainly the opposite is true, given so much of the p.c. art that has become fashionable recently. Here’s what happened when a neurotic fag and a neurotic woman wound up interviewing Peter Saul for five hours. We still support totally un-p.c. art; we had to deal with the fact that great art often comes out of a politically poopy reality. We’re still trying to figure it out. . . .
 
RL

RHONDA LIEBERMAN: I’m a complete fan of yours. We’ve both been coveting the paintings in the “Hand-Painted Pop” show, especially the refrigerator piece.

PETER SAUL: The weirdest thing was that when I made those things, I was living in Europe and had no idea how much I was part of the Pop thing. Coming back to the work in this show, I said, for the first time, Yeah, I’m definitely a part of that.

CARY LEIBOWITZ: I got the invitation to your show in the mail the other day, and I thought it was so funny that you put Pop Art II on it.

PS: Once you’ve done a more or less straight copy, there’s nothing to do but do something with it. You can’t go on copying a Campbell soup can forever; you gotta pour it out or crunch it up.

CL: Or eat it with a hot dog.

PS: I made Pop Art I and Pop Art II because of the “Hand-Painted Pop” show. In Pop Art I I’m relating my own Donald Duck to Jasper Johns, and Pop

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