In this essay I plan to discuss the work of the painter Jenny Saville, whose work I admire for it’s stark, harsh subject matter and uncomplicated execution. In this essay I will analyse Jenny Saville’s techniques, materials and subject matter and the effect they have on her audience.
Jenny Saville is famous for painting huge portraits of fat, disfigured or transgender subjects. She says this comes from being a child, sitting underneath her piano teacher and examining the teacher’s large thighs: “From below she had these big, thick thighs, a thick tweed skirt and tights, and I'd spend the whole time looking at the way her thighs never parted and how the flesh would rub against the tights.”
Because of the sheer size of the canvas Saville likes to work on, and the size of the models she paints, the viewer gets a strong feeling of being a small child gazing up at a huge subject, and this can create a feeling of fear of inferiority very easily. Overall this seems to be a theme in Jenny Saville’s work – uncovering the uncomfortable and displaying it so massively that it is impossible to avoid. As a race we’re very fond of hiding away the ugly people, the fat people, the strange people and the disfigured people, but Jenny Saville is all too fond of putting those people up on huge canvases to be stared at and admired.
Saville works in oil paint on a huge, larger-than-life-size scale. She paints in a way that is reminiscent of finger painting, and very little attention is paid to whether strokes are inside the lines. This in itself could be a statement on the human race’s reluctance to accept anything outside of the beautiful norm we see on television and in magazines every day.
Saville uses pigmented hues and tones in her work, and her use of almost creamy oil paint gives the skin a poured or smeared appearance, making it seem almost unrealistic in nature. In pieces like ‘Rosetta’, blues are used to create a cool, harsh, sad feeling with the viewer, which can make them feel sympathy for the subject of the painting. Using harsh blues in the eyes gives them a sad look, and the use of creamy colours and purples around the eyes makes the viewer anxious to look into the subject’s eyes, which are staring right out of the canvas.
In conclusion, I love the stark, harsh realism of Jenny Saville’s work. I love her willingness to focus on subjects that are perfectly imperfect – subjects that are not usually seen in paintings and photographs are glorified in huge life-size paintings and daubed, creamy oil paint. Jenny Saville’s work gives a macabre-yet-beautiful look to the overlooked, shamed members of society. I adore her work, and would love to emulate her style in my work in the future.