Jenny Saville is a world-renowned contemporary painter with a new solo exhibit at the Modern Art Oxford in the UK. Saville is known for painting the human body– usually that of a woman’s– with little desire to evoke traditional ideas of beauty, let alone femininity. In fact many of her nudes are of morbidly obese women, or depict women who appear to be battered and bruised. Still, she’s described as “kind of a feminist” and I’d like to take a closer look with the PITNBrs to see if that’s how this art should be classified. And I warned you– they’re either feminist, misogynist, or grotesque (or something else), so be prepared. And if your bosses don’t appreciate nudes, some of these are also NSFW.
Here’s what the HuffPost had to say about Jenny Saville:
Saville was born in Cambridge in 1970. She recounted to The Guardian’s Rachel Cooke being hypnotized, at 6 years old, by the image of her piano teacher’s thighs would rub together during lessons: “I was fascinated by the way her two breasts would become one, the way her fat moved, the way it hung on the back of her arms.” Her childhood curiosity and creativity were fostered from a young age and eventually attended the prestigious Glasgow School of Art.
One thing that remains consistent throughout Saville’s work is skin, skin and more skin. Yet a glimpse into Saville’s world of flesh looks more like peeking into a butcher window than a Playboy magazine. Her works clearly could not be further away from the idealized male views of the female form, but they inhabit a strange and undefinable realm between pride and grotesqueness. It feels as if Saville is the lovechild of Willem de Kooning’s violent misogyny and Lucian Freud’s carnal hunger who, somehow, popped out as kind of a feminist.
Read more here.
So here’s my thing. What makes for feminist art? Do the paintings automatically qualify because the subjects are women and the artist is a woman? Because you could also argue that these paintings exploit the femme form; it’s certainly not celebratory… right? Or do these, in some way, express a certain feminist idea? You could certainly make that argument about this one, which shows a woman with a very particular set of marks on her body:
Saville had this to say about Plan:
The lines on her body are the marks they make before you have liposuction done to you. 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.
I spent a long time on this one. I like the idea of concentration on the body. And there is obviously some sort of vulnerability here, because having liposuction in the first place– you’ve got to have some sort of vulnerability to go and get it. But I like the idea that there’s also power and strength in the body at the same time. So again you’re not sure; it’s ambiguous. Some people think it shows a loving caress of the body. I never really perceived it when I did it in that way. For me, it’s much more to do with the fact that women who have got very large breasts pull them up to have a look at the rest of their body. You want to see the rest of your body but you can’t without lifting up your breasts. So it’s this idea of self-examination that I saw in it.
Read more here.
I’m really interested in Saville’s process, although I still don’t know exactly what to make of these images. They’re intense! They’re not sexy; which is what I kept telling myself as I worked on this post (and kept having second thoughts about it all), lol. I try to give you guys sexy, fun artsy stuff to look at and I don’t think that’s what this is but here we are! And I really wanna know what you guys think!
And while we’re on the subject of artistic depictions of women that may or may not make us squirm, did any of you ever see the fashion spread Victim Of Beauty? It was in the Bulgarian magazine 12, and it pissed off a lot of people. Is art like this ever ok? Peep the gallery.