Peter Saul

Les Abbatoirs: 20/9/19-26/1/20

Painting is 60% Painting 40% Socio Political Engagement, for Peter Saul at least. In principal, I agree; whiskey is 40% but it’s that 60% which makes it so much better them each special. The problem with Saul’s work, is that it has become shit but I still like it. To cut through the explanations and the arguments, he has created his formula; he represents characters from current affairs, combined with slogans disguised as political/social criticism, in a graphic style that is personal.

So what’s my problem: it’s two fold political and plastique. Peter Saul the activist has retired and exchanged critical and political engagement in collective decision making with a subscription to the New York Times. That is still something but without the utopia and the potential of possibility which it assumes, the plastic side of things becomes less about painting than about illustrating the latest copy published by the paper of the punters.

It’s hard to know if this is a criticism of the artist or the exhibition? The exhibition started with the most recent work hung in a white cube. As one moved clockwise round the building one discovers this work in reverse chronology; from the white cube, one discovers the psychedelic installations of the 70’s reifying black power, the early canvas, fighting to find space in the surface and it finishes with the diaries and notebooks, surrounded by sketches and studies, a room full of questions, desires, both pictural and political. Then one starts again and you realise that after 60 years, engagement has become a formula to fill canvases with stereotypes not just of people but of political engagement.

Painting like politics is about creating new spaces in which we can invest ourselves. The moment we have figured out what we’re doing it’s over.

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