Who? Jenny Saville, the British figurative painter best known for sensual, disturbing and powerful depictions of the human form. Working within a traditionally male dominated medium, she became established within the scandalous ‘Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi collection’ exhibition at The Royal Academy in 1997, and is renowned for reinventing figurative painting within contemporary British art.
What? An exhibition of new paintings and drawings at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. Suitably titled Continuum, the show features a continuation of Saville’s renowned Stare portraits alongside other new works that explore the intimate relationship between mother and child. Inspired by Renaissance Nativity Portraits – such as Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and John the Baptist (1499-1500) – she has created a new series of life-size drawings. Study for Pentimenti IV (After Michelangelo’s Virgin and Child) (2011), and Componimento inculto (2011) see Saville return to her ongoing exploration into repeated forms. Multiple impressions of a pregnant woman and child have been drawn, rubbed out and altered to construct a powerful flux of figures. It is her first show in New York since her 2003 exhibition Migrants’ which contained her notorious work Pause (2002-2003) – a 10-foot painting of a screaming woman, her face covered in bloody reds and browns and the body immersed into a background of refreshing blues.
Why? Art historian Linda Nochlin describes her as “the most interesting and exciting painter of our times. Exciting, disturbing and hugely upsetting…” and in many ways her work is fuelled with these contradictions. Sensuality is merged with distress, intrigue with brutality and boldness with troubling ambiguity. “(Flesh) is all things. Ugly, beautiful, repulsive, compelling, anxious, neurotic, dead, alive” explains Saville and since the beginning of her career this has been of prominent intrigue within her work. In the world of Saville, flesh appears tactile on the canvas. Made up of thick brush strokes, layers and layers of oil paint and in a palette that ranges from soft pinks, bloody reds and browns to almost aquatic blues. She addresses her subject matters with the same extremity; human forms are given animalistic qualities and shown on a monumental scale. Over the years her research has ranged from studying elephantiasis, taking clippings of crash victims from newspapers and a period in New York where she observed plastic surgery procedures.
Jenny Saville: Continuum will exhibit at the Gagosian Gallery Madison Avenue, New York from September 15 – October 22 2011.
Text by Isabella Burley