San Francisco

Fred Sauls

Lewis & Vidal Gallery, Wal­nut Creek

The contemporary art­ist who will not serve, who writes, paints, sculpts with the voice of history instead of the dead hand of the past, speaks for the Existentialist Now from anti-fear of new forms––economic, social, political, cultural. But he also reveals himself as a lone and angry wolf with anarchist in­clinations and a Marxist pedigree. Out­raged by the cancerous failures of preceding generations still with us, at those conventions and institutions that have led civilization to the periphery of de­struction, he evaluates the condition of the unloved men of the muckhole city (where Diana bows down with her petite breasts hunting), and directs his arrows against the Old Jerusalem, besides the museums and mausoleums (posterity be damned!) of dealers and collectors who want art to last for centuries.

In the City of Man, where the streets are filled with ego materialism and the numbing fog of popular myth, the artist who would push forward the edges of perception will make an effort to dis­cover new forms of humane sensibility and not only to give old forms new ex­pression. His art will be anti-illusionistic––an offering for the prevention of dis­ease––but visionary in its direction. Fred Saul’s one-man show of oils, sculp­ture and water colors contains just such an offering. His works will not be liked; they will be only partly understood; but they will be needed.

In a search for new forms in painting, he mixes media not according to any scientific criterion, but in a quite bizarre manner painting with a blow-torch and actually burning holes in his canvases. Most of his oils are done on masonite and are sculptured as well as painted. Critical of traditional sanctifications of culture-tools, especially the brush stroke technique in painting, he prefers to pour his paints and to get his forms through spilling, slapping, beating, dropping and twisting them in an effort to force an ac­cident that he can agree with. In reject­ing the academic notion of the artist as virtuoso, he cherishes the act of crea­tion, not mastery of its tools, and the mystery of creation enough to force into the background visual traces of his technique. Done with soft lines in light-eating colors, his oils give the appearance of tapestry and are appealing primarily for their tactile qualities. Although painted almost entirely in black, his oils seem to be bursting with life, with witches’ sab­baths and devils’ doorways––the erotic significance of black (burning, fertilizing night-life passions) being fully exploited with auxiliary reds and electric blues. Politically, as well as esthetically, black symbolizes protest against “all the old crap” (Marx). It is the nay-saying color or anti-color, the anger and resentment of dirty fingernails, muckraking senti­ments and satire. Black is not just a coprophiliac and copulating color, but also the color of frozen religious orders and cultural necrophiles. So in painting what he loves, Sauls also finds himself lashing out against everything he hates. His oils shimmer with eroticism, from Zen (The Chinese Cock) to peyote (Blue Lines Passing) and everything swinging (Inside the Horn), and with Marxist sympathies for the working class against the bosses (Elevate them in a blast of light) and their man-eating wars (Names One by One).

His sculptures closely parallel the natural process technique of his oils, making use of the complete range of metal casting and welding techniques from free pouring to traditional bronze casting. He works with iron and alumi­num as well as bronze, but without ac­tually mixing metals. Like his oils, his sculptures are rich in textures with subtle red and blue patinas that add to their relish. Here, too, the artist speaks in a double language of sex (The Sex Ledger) and satire (Philosophy Bubble). The critical and revolutionary content of his sculptures is further sug­gested by such provocative and ill-hu­mored titles as Sculpture for C. Wright Mills (roughly in the form of hammer and sickle) and The Anarchist. If his Process Paintings numbers 1 to 4 can be said to typify his natural process technique in oils, then The Unsculp­ture exemplifies his formal attitude to­ward metal work.

In rejecting socialist realism for a style exploiting the social symbolism of formal or abstract surfaces, and by using natural instead of artificial proc­esses to create them, Sauls succeeds in making art intrinsically revolutionary instead of a conservative vehicle of out­worn social and political nostrums. He has tried to accomplish through painting and sculpture what Brecht did for the theatre. To feel the skin of a work of art and, by means of it, to be aroused from dogmatic slumbers and opiates of com­placency––not to become lost in a world of fantasy––that is the purpose of revo­lutionary art. This art is no substitute for the real world and, in defiance of both magical realists and surrealists, frustrates every attempt to escape it. Sauls’ paintings and sculptures act as cathartics instead of sedatives, with muckraking anger as their dominant motif. He is the artist par excellence of expectoration and defecation. His water colors are spittings; his sculptures are shittings; and his oils combine qualities of both. As works of cultivated irrespon­sibility they point toward an esthetic nihilism, having as one criterion of ar­tistic excellence the capacity for outrage.

Donald Clark Hodges