San Francisco, 1986
Acrylic on paper
40 1/4 x 59 1/2 inches
© 2021 Peter Saul / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy the artist, Venus Over Manhattan, New York, and Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco.
San Francisco native Peter Saul shares trippy visions of his hometown at the Berggruen Gallery
Artist Peter Saul returns to the city of his birth in his first solo exhibition with Berggruen Gallery. The paintings and works on paper on view in “Peter Saul: San Francisco” mostly span the 30 years from 1966 to 1996: a time when both the city and Saul’s visions as an artist evolved considerably.
Among the works are three extraordinary paintings from 1969: “Frisco,” which depicts a Day-Glo Golden Gate Bridge bending and twisting around the city and Marin Headlands; the equally trippy (and witty) “Frenching in Frisco,” which also shows the twisted bridge while figures interlock tongues in what look like LSD hallucinations of French kissing; and “Self-Defense,” painted in the same style but more message-oriented, showing the tensions in the city between the rich and poor as well as the police and communities of color. A later painting, “San Francisco” from 1986, offers a more idealized view of the city and its familiar landmarks.
“What motivated [these pictures] and a number of others I’ve painted is an almost complete lack of humor in ‘Modern Art’ since WWII,” Saul said in his artist statement for the show. “Where are the jokes? Even if it’s wrong, I prefer to add something that wasn’t there before to doing the same old thing, even if it’s highly praised.”
The jokes are evident throughout “Peter Saul: San Francisco,” but like the best humor, they also reveal truths. While some of the works absolutely evoke the 1960s era in which many were created in their use of color and form, what was most apparent after viewing the show was how many of the issues expressed in the works remain essentially unchanged.
“Peter Saul: San Francisco” 10 a.m.-3 p.m Monday-Friday. 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. first Saturdays. Through Feb. 26. Free. Berggruen Gallery, 10 Hawthorne St. S.F. 415-781-4629. berggruen.com