Jenny Saville, born in Cambridge England in 1970, she is a contemporary British painter and has long been associated with the Young British Artists group. She is known for her large-scale painted depictions of naked women.
As an artist myself I can tell you that Jenny Saville is one of the most talented painters that I’ve ever come across and her painting style is a huge inspiration for me in my own portrait work. Her work is unique because her subject matter is not aesthetically beautiful in the majority of her works. She choses mostly overweight women to model for her to create a narrative about a topic she speaks heavily about in her work: plastic surgery and the human need to be ‘better’.
As a young painter in Britain she was awarded a 6 month scholarship to the University of Cincinnati, where she began to notice how women in America were much heavier than those overseas. She states to an interviewer that there were “lot’s of big women. Big white flesh in shorts and t-shirts. It was good to see because they had the physicality that I was interested in.” She partially credits her interest in the flesh to Picasso, who she felt painted figures and objects that were solidly there within the painting, not fleeting or washed away.
One of the reasons that I find her work completely alluring is the physicality of it. When I first saw her work in person three years ago, I was thrown back, completely flabbergasted at the intricate detail in the work. These paintings are huge, and there is not a space present within them that isn’t painted to perfection. The feeling I had when standing in front of these paintings is indescribable. You honestly want to reach out and touch the figures because their flesh and presence to the viewer is so… real. Her blending of paint, matched with her colour palette and subject matter is divine, and each part of these paintings come together to create this symphony of skin, fat, and contemporary subject matter.
She is perfection, and she has discovered for herself a way to access and use portraiture in a new way, which is very difficult in this day and age due to the fact that painting as a medium of expression is considered ‘dead’.
-Branded (1992). Oil painting on a 7’ × 6’ canvas: In this painting, Saville painted her own face onto an obese female body. The size of the breasts and midsection is very exaggerated. The figure in the painting is holding folds of her skin which she is seemingly showing off
Plan (1993). Oil painting on a 9’ × 7’ canvas.:This painting depicts a nude female figure with contour lines marked on her body, much like that of a topographical map. Saville said of this work: “The lines on her body are the marks they make before you have liposuction done. They draw these things that look like targets. I like this idea of mapping of the body, not necessarily areas to be cut away, but like geographical contours on a map. I didn’t draw on to the body. I wanted the idea of cutting into the paint. Like you would cut into the body. It evokes the idea of surgery. It has lots of connotations.”
Fulcrum (1999). Oil painting on an 8 1/2’ × 16’ canvas: In this painting, three obese women are piled on a medical trolley. Thin vertical strips of tape have been painted over and then pulled off the canvas, thus creating a sense of geometric measure at odds with the mountainous flesh.
Ruben’s Flap (1998–1999). Oil painting on a 10’ × 8’ canvas: This painting depicts Saville herself; she multiplies her body, letting it fill the canvas space as it does in other works, but what is interesting is the fragmentation. Decisive lines divide the body into square planes, and it appears that she is trying to hide the nakedness with the different planes. Saville seems to be struggling to convince herself that the parts of her body are beautiful.
Passage 2004 Oil on canvas 336 x 290 cm