Jenny Saville (1970)

“Jenny Saville was born in Cambridge, England in 1970.

In 1990, midway through her BA course at the Glasgow School of Art, Jenny Saville exhibited in Contemporary ’90 at the Royal College of Art. In 1992 she completed her degree as well as showing in Edinburgh and in Critics Choice at the Cooling Gallery, London. Following the success of her show at the Saatchi Gallery in 1994, which generated a great deal of publicity for her work (the images were ubiquitous that year), Saville went on to take part in the exhibition American Passion, which toured from the McLellan Gallery, Glasgow, to the Royal College of Art and the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut.

By 1994 many people were familiar with Saville’s massive paintings, such as Plan, in which a naked woman is seen from below, her body filling the canvas through a combination of physical bulk and extreme foreshortening. Contour lines, as would demarcate the changes in altitude of land masses on a map, are drawn across the surface of the woman’s skin.”


Although the subject of portrait and nude is very classical, Jenny has found a very personal and different approach. The bodies are crowding the canvases, full of movement, expression, it is almost explosive. She often paints obese bodies in extreme angles, with extreme foreshortening.

“I want to be a painter of modern life, and modern bodies,”

“Jenny Saville: With the transvestite I was searching for a body that was between genders. I had explored that idea a little in Matrix. The idea of floating gender that is not fixed. The transvestite I worked with has a natural penis and false silicone breasts. Thirty or forty years ago this body couldn’t have existed and I was looking for a kind of contemporary architecture of the body. I wanted to paint a visual passage through gender – a sort of gender landscape. To scale from the penis, across a stomach to the breasts, and finally the head. I tried to make the lips and eyes be very seductive and use directional mark-making to move your eye around the flesh.”


Interview w Jenny Saville by Marc Hudson in the Telegraph 24 th of June 2014

“I paint flesh because I’m human,” says Saville, as though surprised anyone would consider painting anything else. “If you work in oil, as I do, it comes naturally. Flesh is just the most beautiful thing to paint.”

Yet the bodies she paints are rarely conventionally beautiful.

“I like the down and dirty side of things,” she says. “I don’t like things

to be too polished. We’ve got fashion magazines for that.”

“It’s become really difficult to do figurative painting that isn’t naff or cheesy and which feels relevant,” says Saville. “I’ve found a way of doing it by looking at abstract painters like Willem de Kooning and Cy Twombly. I like looking at very old figurative painting, at the old masters. But when it comes to the art of our time, I prefer to look at abstract painting. It’s taught me a lot about the physical act of painting, about pace and tempo, using drips and marks in ways that aren’t just decorative.”

Looking at a head on which work appears to have stopped mid-brush stroke, I wonder if she wasn’t tempted to finish it off. “I like it like that. It’s much easier to finish something than to leave it incomplete. Knowing where to stop is the most difficult thing.”


In a conversation with Nicholas Cullinan, Modern At Oxford, Jenny Saville talks about her work ‘the Mirror”. It is a history of the reclining nude. “Nudes reflect the culture of the time. Instead of making a new nude, I just brought them all in, working with Picasso, Manet.. Since I became a mother , I have the confidence to do whatever I want.Art history was always there , but I never though I would DIRECTLY reconcile it. I don’t work in a conceptual way, more like a scavenger, just like snippets of memory. That’s why I called it Mirror- you slip from one reality to another .Lots and lots of artists have done this in the past.

Looking at Jenny Savilles paintings I feel a mixture of awe and being overwhelmed, there is so much expression, flesh, humanity. The canvases are absoutely crowded with these faces or bodies overflowing the frames.  The fleshy threedimensional physical quality of the paintings  is about as far away as you can come from my very flat and empty linear drawings. What I definitely can learn immediately is to dare experiment with more extreme angles and compositions, letting even a simple stillife overflow the borders of the paper. Also working more on textures would be a next step, daring bold expression and leaving parts unpolished.



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