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Peter Saul

American, b. 1934


Mixed media on paper
34.25 x 39 in. (86.995 x 99.06 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation

Peter Saul’s incendiary drawing Businessman provides a master class in artistic nonconformity. Made in 1962, this piece of Boschian iconoclasm, while ostensibly depicting a CEO in his corner office, takes on all comers—corporate America, the worship of money, abstract expressionism (once the nation’s official counterculture), and just about every other representative of the status quo.

An artist committed to crafting what George Orwell called “significant mental rebellions,” Saul’s work has long defied easy classification. Despite the fact that his paintings have sometimes been seen in the context of San Francisco’s funk movement in the 1960s, Chicago’s loose “Hairy Who” group in the 1970s, and, more durably, the pop art aesthetic, his work has garnered its own cult status for more than five decades. Saul’s output during that time has been remarkably consistent: year after year of deftly shocking drawings and paintings done in his signature cartoon style.

Like nearly all of Saul’s works, Businessman blends various clashing and complementary elements. These include charcoal and colored pencil, a free-flowing approach to drawing, garish color combinations, and acid political commentary. Throw in the influence of American comics, Continental surrealism, and an inchoate antipolitical correctness, and this picture acquires the dynamism of an animated feature film. The work’s grotesqueries nearly leap off the paper.

Featuring a gas canister, a cigar, several hatchets, a toilet emblazoned with the words “head office,” and a dollar- green homunculus wearing a rep tie seated at an orange desk, Businessman presents an acerbic parody of late twentieth-century American corporate culture. Yet, like the figures animating Pieter Breugel’s Triumph of Death (1562–63), Saul’s company man is not just a bad actor in a conventional capitalist sense, he’s a demon sent down to terrorize the earth.

Christian Viveros-Fauné

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