Paul Cadmus’ Coney Island was the first picture I ever saw, in 1939 when I was 5 years old, in a book called American Art of the 1930’s. All the other pictures in the book were realistic, or idealistic, or at best slightly mysterious. Coney Island, in contrast, was incredibly exaggerated! The ugly people were really, really very ugly, not just a little bit. Likewise, they looked really, really stupid, not just a little dumb. I loved the picture and it really made me laugh with delight. Perhaps my mother was upset by my taste in art. Anyway, I must have had a natural urge to exaggerate things, avoid the truth. After a couple of years, I discovered Crime Does Not Pay comics and forgot about Coney Island.
About 60 years later I was in the Whitney Art Museum, walking around the permanent collection, when there it was, unexpected, right in front of me. Not disappointing at all. I would have liked it to be larger, but it was as bright and energetic as I remembered in the art book back in 1939.
Peter Saul is a pop artist who had his first New York show in 1962. He was a professor of art at the University of Texas at Austin from 1981 to 2000 and currently lives in Germantown, NY and New York City.