A weird and interesting dichotomy of two painters who share neither age, gender, race or subject matter are united by passionate painting and masterful brushwork. Peter Saul, at 85 is having his first-ever NYC retrospective show, filling two floors of the New Museum with his exuberant subversive imagery. I love his earliest paintings, created in Paris in the early 1960s, quirky palette counterpointed with gestural power. Upon returning to his native California, Saul’ s work reflected the Haight Ashbury hippie revolution. His Vietnam paintings are a psychedelic artistic and political protest inspired by San Francisco counter culture.
This is an artist who depicts Stalin, Reagan, Bush and Trump with equal measures of cartoony insouciance and gorgeous brushwork. Preceding Warhol’s screen-printed versions by one year, in 1963, Saul painted the electric chair, which continued as a theme. (Superman in Electric Chair,1963). On the top floor, the salon-style hangings present a cornucopia of absurdist tempered political outrage. Hitler and Bush cling to a donkey backed airplane, and Trump and Kim Jong-Yun share a canvas.
In the1975 “Washington Crosses the Delaware” a crazed confection of the first President, astride a dappled pink horse float across a river of phosphorescent ice floes. Always irreverent, Saul’s graphic and intensely surreal work feels weirdly relevant and reflective of today’s disastrous media glut. Intense palette, combined with quirky pop imagery, accurately captures these Trumpian times. And luckily, Saul’s dayglo debauchery and offbeat originality offer a glimmer of desperate hope.
Jordan Casteel, like Peter Saul, mines her community, and the results are colour infused portraits and street scenes. First recognized for her luminous black male nude series “Visible Men”, the Colorado-born Casteel, who lives and works in Harlem, shows work that comprises an autobiography of her life.
Paintings of self-assured college students, beginning at her alma mater, Yale, and continuing with her own Rutgers University students introduce stylish young people with unwavering gaze and youthful grace. I especially love her street series, many night time vistas bathed in unnatural fluorescent glare, like “Amina” a braiding salon shuttered for the evening. And what city dweller has not appreciated the unexpected beauty of a slightly soiled floral arrangement,” Memorial” 2017 carefully placed in a trash can.
Several subway series capture riders in repose, whether crammed together on a seat like “Takedown” 2018 or majestically claiming space, “Her Turn” 2018 a backwards viewed rider, garbed in traditional African wear.
Enriched by her incisive eye for detail, Casteel is equally adept at formal portraiture or depicting urban street life. Like Alice Need and Bob Thompson, her work is free-spirited, lyrical and mesmerizing. Like Alice Neel, her female gaze penetrates her subject matter, down to exacting domestic detail, and like Bob Thompson, the African American artist known for his colourful and visionary realism(1937-1966), Casteel’s style work is bold, vibrant and visionary.
The New Museum Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment until May 31 Jordan Casteel: Within Reach until May 24 – 235 Bowery New York, NY 10002