Peter Saul.
Self-Defense, 1969
4.08.2024
5.07
Collection Highlights
Acrylic on canvas
172,7 x 243,8 cm / 68 x 96 in.
Self-Defense is a groundbreaking painting in which Peter Saul challenged sixties America to consider its rising social tensions. Created in 1969, during the height of the Black Panther movement, it stands as one of the key works in Saul's series of politically charged paintings from that era, highlighting the civil rights struggles and societal conflicts of the time. Combining hyperchromatic Day-Glo colors and caricatures of American culture, Saul employed his signature style to push the boundaries of what painting can achieve. The work went beyond what other pop-art artists dared to explore, making a bold statement through its vivid and provocative imagery.
"I wanted my art…not to be in the middle. My feeling about politics in art is that it’s usually feeble, because it delivers the expected message. The expected message is dead on arrival, because all it does is point out that the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad. I wanted work that was far, far more troubling. If a picture isn’t troubling, why even think about it?"

– Peter Saul

Peter Saul. Self-Defense, 1969 (detail) © Gary Tatintsian Gallery and the artist
"I’m not really trying to change anybody’s mind; I’m just trying to make them think a little bit."

– Peter Saul
Peter Saul's art avoids the direct use of slogans or overt political postures. Instead of expressing a political view, he tells stories through his paintings, often presenting ethical dilemmas for viewers to interpret. In Self-Defense, Peter Saul employs his distinctive visual style to vividly animate sociopolitical tensions, tackling some of the most urgent questions of that decade. Challenging societal norms and confronting complex issues through his art, Saul positions himself as a critical voice in the discourse of his time.
Installation view of Peter Saul's exhibition 'Crime and Punishment' at the New Museum, New York, 2020
Paul Cadmus. Coney Island (detail), 1934 © Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Saul's approach to art often includes elements of humor and satire, even when addressing serious social issues. Self-Defense depicts academic and activist Angela Davis, who was persecuted by the U.S. government for her involvement with the Black Panthers, defending herself against a pair of police officers whose distended forms reach across a caricatured version of the Golden Gate Bridge. This artwork reflected Saul's position at the forefront of the counterculture and his engagement with pressing questions of race and inequality.
Salvador Dalí. Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (detail), 1936 ©Philadelphia Museum of Art
Plastic Man Comic Books © DC Comics
Peter Saul's art stands apart from the political cartoonists of 1960s California through its unique blend of complex compositions and detailed elements. His work merges serious subject matter with the neurotic compositions typical of Surrealists, while also incorporating the vibrant color schemes reminiscent of comic books from that period.

One of Saul's distinct techniques is his use of smooth yet precise shapes within his figures. The artist employs color to define individual bodies and objects, while stretching and contorting these forms to intertwine and penetrate one another. This interconnectedness demands scrutiny from the viewer to discern which body part belongs to which character, shifting focus away from the overall composition to the intricate details. With this stylistic choice Saul effectively communicates underlying messages within his artworks, drawing the viewer's attention to the nature of the depicted subject.
Peter Saul © GQ / Tim Davis
halley
© The Oregonian Archives / MetroWest / Hartford Times Collection / Bettmann Archive
Peter Saul. Self-Defence, 1969 © Gary Tatintsian Gallery
Exhibitions
'Peter Saul: New Paintings'. Allan Frumkin Gallery, New York. November, 1969;
'Peter Saul: Retrospective,' Swen Parsons Gallery, DeKalb, Northern Illinois University, November 3–30, 1980; traveled to Madison, Madison Art Center, February 1–March 29, 1981;
'Peter Saul: Political Paintings: 1965-1971,' Frumkin/Adams Gallery, New York. October 1–November 30, 1990;
'Peter Saul: From Pop to Punk,' Venus Over Manhattan, New York. February 25–April 25, 2015;
'Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment', New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. curated by Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari, February 11, 2020–January 3, 2021.
'Peter Saul: San Francisco'. Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco. January 13–February 26, 2022

Publications
"Continuing Solos," New York Magazine 2, no. 47 (November 24, 1969), ill., p. 28.
Kind, Joshua, Dennis Adrian, Peter Saul, Peter Saul (DeKalb: Swen Parson Gallery, 1980), ill., p. 20.
Cameron, Dan, "Peter Saul: Political Paintings", 1965-1971 (New York: Frumkin/Adams Gallery, 1990), ill., p. 12.
Cameron, Dan, Dennis Szakacs, Robert Storr, Peter Saul, and Michael Duncan, Peter Saul (Newport Beach: Orange County Museum of Art, 2008), ill., p. 24.
Bradley, Paige K., "Critics' Picks: Peter Saul: Venus Over Manhattan," Artforum, April 10, 2015, ill.
Callahan, Sophia, "Peter Saul is Older (and Cooler) Than Your Favorite Artist," VICE, April 20, 2015, ill.
"Peter Saul: From Pop to Punk." Culture Feeder (March 19, 2015), ill.
Frank, Priscilla, "Meet Peter Saul, The Art World's Resident Octogenarian Rebel," HuffPost, February 17, 2015, ill.
"Peter Saul: From Pop to Punk" (New York: Venus Over Manhattan, 2015), ill., pp. 86-87.
Laster, Paul, "From Pop to Punk: Peter Saul" Time Out New York, March 26, 2015, ill.
Piepenbring, Dan, "Pictures with Problems," The Paris Review, March 31, 2015, ill.
Yau, John, "Peter Saul's Hair-Raising Attacks," Hyperallergic, March 29, 2015, ill.
Abrams, Loney, "Peter Saul's Painting Survey Asserts a Nuanced Take on Protest and Complicity at the New Museum," NAD NOW: The Journal of the National Academy of Design, March 11, 2020.
Gioni, Massimiliano, Gary Carrion-Murayari, "Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment" (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art; New York: Phaidon, 2020), ill., pp. 121, 124–125.
Nadel, Dan, ed., "Peter Saul: Professional Artist Correspondence, 1945–1976" (New York: Bad Dimensions Press, 2020), ill., p. 175
Zutshi, Vikram. "Meet Peter Saul, the Bad Boy of American Art," Pop Matters, April 28, 2020, ill.
Exhibitions
'Peter Saul: New Paintings'. Allan Frumkin Gallery, New York. November, 1969;
'Peter Saul: Retrospective,' Swen Parsons Gallery, DeKalb, Northern Illinois University, November 3–30, 1980; traveled to Madison, Madison Art Center, February 1–March 29, 1981;
'Peter Saul: Political Paintings: 1965-1971,' Frumkin/Adams Gallery, New York. October 1–November 30, 1990;
'Peter Saul: From Pop to Punk,' Venus Over Manhattan, New York. February 25–April 25, 2015;
'Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment', New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. curated by Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari, February 11, 2020–January 3, 2021.
'Peter Saul: San Francisco'. Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco. January 13–February 26, 2022

Publications
"Continuing Solos," New York Magazine 2, no. 47 (November 24, 1969), ill., p. 28.
Kind, Joshua, Dennis Adrian, Peter Saul, Peter Saul (DeKalb: Swen Parson Gallery, 1980), ill., p. 20.
Cameron, Dan, "Peter Saul: Political Paintings", 1965-1971 (New York: Frumkin/Adams Gallery, 1990), ill., p. 12.
Cameron, Dan, Dennis Szakacs, Robert Storr, Peter Saul, and Michael Duncan, Peter Saul (Newport Beach: Orange County Museum of Art, 2008), ill., p. 24.
Bradley, Paige K., "Critics' Picks: Peter Saul: Venus Over Manhattan," Artforum, April 10, 2015, ill.
Callahan, Sophia, "Peter Saul is Older (and Cooler) Than Your Favorite Artist," VICE, April 20, 2015, ill.
"Peter Saul: From Pop to Punk." Culture Feeder (March 19, 2015), ill.
Frank, Priscilla, "Meet Peter Saul, The Art World's Resident Octogenarian Rebel," HuffPost, February 17, 2015, ill.
"Peter Saul: From Pop to Punk" (New York: Venus Over Manhattan, 2015), ill., pp. 86-87.
Laster, Paul, "From Pop to Punk: Peter Saul" Time Out New York, March 26, 2015, ill.
Piepenbring, Dan, "Pictures with Problems," The Paris Review, March 31, 2015, ill.
Yau, John, "Peter Saul's Hair-Raising Attacks," Hyperallergic, March 29, 2015, ill.
Abrams, Loney, "Peter Saul's Painting Survey Asserts a Nuanced Take on Protest and Complicity at the New Museum," NAD NOW: The Journal of the National Academy of Design, March 11, 2020.
Gioni, Massimiliano, Gary Carrion-Murayari, "Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment" (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art; New York: Phaidon, 2020), ill., pp. 121, 124–125.
Nadel, Dan, ed., "Peter Saul: Professional Artist Correspondence, 1945–1976" (New York: Bad Dimensions Press, 2020), ill., p. 175
Zutshi, Vikram. "Meet Peter Saul, the Bad Boy of American Art," Pop Matters, April 28, 2020, ill.
Illustrated in the catalog for the 'Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment' in 2020, pp. 121, 124–125.

Publishers: Phaidon
Paul Cadmus. Coney Island (detail), 1934 © Los Angeles County Museum of Art


Peter Saul. Self-Defense, 1969

© Courtesy of the Artist and Gary Tatintsian Gallery
July 5–August 4, 2024