Perversion and "the Other" as Social Criticism: Peter Saul's Vietnam
Perez-Halley, Melissa Danelle
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Throughout the career of Peter Saul, different facets of his genius have variously been on display: Peter Saul the rabble-rouser, the reactionary, the formal painter, the thinker, the activist, and even Peter Saul the marginalized. My thesis will take a new and critical look at Saul and set out to establish that through the risky, bold, and innovative work of his 1960s Vietnam series, he filled a crucial gap and forged a distinctive path in the American Contemporary art scene. The first section will focus on Saul's life and professional development, up to the early 70s, as described in letters written between the artist and his dealer, critics, and historians. Here, I will attempt to clarify Saul's historical and social context, in order to better situate his work. I will begin the second section by explaining the theoretical underpinnings of Hegel, Levinas, and Derrida's philosophical engagement with "the Other" and analyzing the fracture and destabilization that occurs specifically in Saul's Vietnam series. Lastly, the third section will explain how this deconstruction or interpretation allows Saul's work to function in the mode of social criticism. Through the context of his personal journey, his Vietnam series will be critically broached. The main objective of this thesis will be to establish that, from the margins, Saul has been able to leave an indelible mark in contemporary art and has done so by giving a voice to "the Other." Walking the fine line of neither rejecting nor assimilating that which is different, Saul's rather admittedly offensive and shocking art actually engages "the Other," and doing so, acts as the prophetic voice of his generation.