Peter Saul - New Now New York Wednesday, March 3, 2021 | Phillips
  • Provocative, disrespectful, and iconoclastic, the work of Peter Saul has been variously characterized as Pop, Surrealist, and cartoonish. Although his work evades easy categorization, what can be certain is that in his work Saul has unapologetically offered a scathing critique of United States’ politics and culture throughout his 60-year career.

    In the early 1960s, Saul developed his distinct style of figurative painting at a time when the art world was preoccupied with high modernism and abstract expressionism, a movement that Saul broke with after a brief stint because “it seemed not tough enough.”1 Instead of concerning himself with formalism, Saul prioritized subject matter, looking out at the world around him to inform his eye-popping paintings that have been deeply engaged with the tumultuous social and political climate of the United States since the early 1960s.



    Peter Saul, Crucifixion of Angela Davis, 1973. Collection of KAWS, New York, Artwork © 2021 Peter Saul / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Pushing Boundaries, Challenging Conventions

    Painted in 1968, Lawd is among several of Saul’s works from the late 1960s and early 1970s that feature the crucifix motif, a symbol that calls to mind themes of betrayal, sacrifice, shame, and punishment. Saul credits the emergence of religious iconography in his practice to an event that occurred while living in Rome in the early 1960s: after suddenly having his studio repossessed, a priest allowed him to set up shop and paint in the backroom of a church. The blocky cross in Lawd, reminiscent of the work Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) by one of Saul’s artistic inspirations, Salvador Dali, rises from the urban landscape like a skyscraper. The figure hanging from the cross is a martyr of the city. Unlike Saul’s work Crucifixion of Angela Davis (1968), the crucified figure in Lawd remains anonymous, suggesting that the haloed subject stands to represent not one single person, but many. Stuck to the cross with a band-aid, which by causing harm ironically serves a function antithetical to its manufactured purpose, the figure endures suffering not only from the act of crucifixion, but also in their condemnation to eat their own excrement and juggle flaming matchsticks in a state of delirium. 


    Saul goes where other artists won’t, creating works that are uncomfortable and confrontational. Despite being executed in 1968, Lawd, like so many other works by Saul, feels eerily contemporary. Saul’s neon palette and graphic style looks futuristic even in our current time, while the subject matter echoes the turbulent world of today. The contemporary relevance of Saul’s work was observed by the public and critics alike after the recent survey exhibition Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment at New York’s New Museum. While Saul’s paintings, such as Lawd from 1968, are shocking and psychological, the meaning of the works are never spelled out to you. In their mystery, the viewer is given the responsibility to decide what the works mean, empowering the audience to take a closer look at the image, and thereafter, the world around them. This is the great strength of Saul’s work, and is what will make his images relevant for centuries to come.


    1 SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT. “Peter Saul Interview.” Online video clip. Youtube. June 27, 2017. Accessed February 12, 2021.  

    • Provenance

      Galerie Darthea Speyer, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009

Property of a Private Collection, The Netherlands



signed and dated "Saul 68" lower right
acrylic and oil on canvas
64 x 48 in. (162.6 x 121.9 cm)
Painted in 1968.

Full Cataloguing

$125,000 - 150,000 

Sold for $239,400

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig
Associate Specialist, Head of New Now Sale
20th Century & Contemporary Art

New Now

New York Auction 3 March 2021