Jenny Saville retrospective opens at Modern Art Oxford
A major retrospective of works by Jenny Saville, the British artist often described as the heir to Lucien Freud, has opened at Modern Art Oxford.
The exhibition, which runs until 16 September, is the artist’s first solo show in a British public gallery.
In association with Modern Art Oxford, The Ashmolean Museum is also displaying two of Saville’s new ‘reproduction’ drawings in the Italian Renaissance Gallery, alongside works by masters Titian and Michelangelo.
Saville was born in Cambridge in 1970 and trained at the Glasgow School of Art and the Slade.
Although a highly successful member of the Young British Artists (YBAs) movement that swept the British art world in the early 90s (Charles Saatchi famously bought works from her degree show), it has taken a remarkably long time for Saville to be given her own solo exhibition.
Saville is perhaps best known for her disturbing yet beautiful large-scale paintings of female nudes, a subject she has relentlessly explored for the last 20 years.
“Women and their bodies has been a dominant subject in art history and I think I make art in that tradition,” she explains.
Yet Saville’s work is explicit in its critique of this tradition, especially with respect to ideals of beauty and physical perfection, qualities that are so firmly embedded in the historical canon of Western art history.
Included in the exhibition are a series of works produced after the artist spent time in the US observing operations at the clinic of a plastic surgeon.
The resulting canvases depict eerie close-ups of women covered with fine black markings on the fleshy contours of their bodies. Through the language of paint Saville has subtly captured the violence that underlies women’s pursuits for physical perfection.
Indeed such works have led the historian Simon Schama to suggest that Saville is “a destroyer of false fetishes in terms of the tradition of the nude”.
Saville’s densely textured canvases certainly provide evidence of a physicality that is both unique and real, which offers a refreshing counterpoint to the airbrushed, glossed and perfected images that impose a certain version of beauty and femininity on the world.
As Saville herself proclaims: “I want to be a painter of modern life, and modern bodies, those that emulate contemporary life, they’re what I find most interesting.”