When I was a student at Florida State University, I had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing artist Peter Saul. At the time, he was 63 years old and an instructor at the University of Texas. After seeing his work at FSU’s art museum, I was inspired! There was so much detail and elements of story that I knew I just had to write my art education term paper on this awesome artist. This is a portion of my paper and interview concerning his work Criminal Medicine.
The art created by Peter Saul reflects the images of surrealism, pop art, and abstract expressionism. His use of distorted gesture and unrealistic figures imitate the style of surrealists; his bright fluorescent colors and cartoonish style represents the work of pop artists; and his abstract figures mirror the abstract expressionists. Saul’s subject matter usually includes social or psychological issues. Viet Nam became the subject of Saul’s work in the 60s. Some of the artist’s work came from a personal level, such as his “Self-Portrait”. Saul has exhibited his work all over the world, including France, Switzerland (Bibliography) and at Florida State University.
Criminal Medicine, one of Saul’s pieces located in the Florida State University’s permanent collection, was painted with oil on acrylic in 1966. Like his other works, Criminal Medicine is filled with symbols of its time – the 1960s – the flower power, Vietnam era. This piece’s symbolism involves an objection to the war that was so devastating – and so objected – to so many people. Criminal Medicine is about the power the United States’ soldiers had over the Viet Namese. There are chemistry tubes and vials labeled “race mixer” and “criminal medicine”, a U.S. Army sergeant, a female figure with a hat, a house, protruding eyes, musical notes, a cross with an army coat nailed to it, and the word “adultery” labeled nearby a female figure with an embryo in her womb. She sun is shown in different phases: smiling empty-eyed and not smiling. The subjects are overlapped, and the cartoonish colors include bright pink, orange, yellow, green, and silver, with bright and military shades of green and blues. Saul’s style in this artwork is tightly pieced together with black outlining the colors.
Criminal Medicine takes on a deconstructionist attitude, with its contradictions in the social setting. It represents what was behind the scenes of the destructive war – prejudice, pregnancy, and prayer. The racism between both countries was prevalent. The soldiers were impregnating women before they’d leave the country, and there were people praying for their lives to be saved probably more than ever.
In his interview, Saul says that there is a lot of psychology involved in Criminal Medicine. The sun is a curious item in the painting, with its spacey smile on one side and its melancholy look on the other. Perhaps the artist was trying to remind himself that it was still the age of LSD, despite what was happening across the world. Ironically, Saul claims to have never taken LSD or any drug (Interview), although his work appears to be “trippy”.
(Note: LSD was banned in ’66 when this painting was completed.) (“Political Paintings”).
For more information about this piece at Florida State University’s Museum of Fine Art, visit: