Gagosian is pleased to present the first-ever solo exhibition of Jenny Saville’s paintings in London.
Captivated by the endless aesthetic and formal possibilities of the materiality of the human body, Saville makes a highly sensuous and tactile impression of surface and mass in her monumental oil paintings. Subjects are imbued with a sculptural yet elusive dimensionality that verges on the abstract. In recent paintings, she renews her enduring figurative investigations by depicting bodies embracing and intertwined.
Several new works are inspired by the ancient Egyptian rubbish dump at Oxyrhynchus, one of the most important archeological sites ever discovered. Heaps of discarded documents and literature, incredibly preserved in the area’s dry climate, are now invaluable; fragments of ancient Greek texts such as Euclid’s Elements and the poems of Sappho are among the excavated papyri. Saville alludes to this history through a deep layering of paired subjects: faces, torsos, and limbs overlap with shadows and reflections, palimpsests of living bodies and ancestral apparitions. Silhouettes drawn in charcoal through the surfaces of oil paint underscore the motion of the central embracing figures, while evoking the timeless human process of sketching. These intermediate “studies” echo the shifting status of the unearthed papers—once discarded, now treasured.
Time is further compressed by Saville’s adaptation of various historical approaches to portraiture, including de Kooning’s fluid abstractions of the female figure, the almost combined couples of Picasso’s late paintings and Japanese shunga prints, and Titian’s placement of subjects within dramatic perspectival landscapes, exemplified by Nymph and Shepherd (c. 1570–75). Saville’s own figures merge ethereally with settings that have been loosely appropriated from photographs and evoke the backdrops of Renaissance paintings.
Paintings on paper distill this subtle figuration into focused portraits, some taking several years to complete. Study for Shadow Head (2007–14) reveals the tension between the subject’s features and piercing gaze and the reality of the painting itself as a surface of thick, gestural brushstrokes. In Generation (2012–14), multiple impressions of each figure are drawn and painted to create studies in simultaneity; the relationship between mother and child is conveyed in a series of dynamic poses that move beyond formal composition and iconographic order into the realm of metaphysics.
A fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by John Elderfield is forthcoming.
Five Preoccupations: Jenny Saville
Jenny Saville shares a selection of the books, films, and more that have been her companions in the quiet of the shutdowns in recent months and as she looks ahead to a new exhibition next year.
Jenny Saville and Nicholas Cullinan
Jenny Saville speaks with Nicholas Cullinan, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, from her studio. They discuss portraiture, her latest work, and her art historical influences, as well as the shifting nature of perception in the age of digital communication.
Sally Mann and Jenny Saville
The two artists discuss being drawn to difficult subjects, the effects of motherhood on their practice, embracing chance, and their shared adoration of Cy Twombly.
Visions of the Self: Jenny Saville on Rembrandt
Jenny Saville reveals the process behind her new self-portrait, painted in response to Rembrandt’s masterpiece Self-Portrait with Two Circles.
Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2019
The Spring 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Red Pot with Lute Player #2 by Jonas Wood on its cover.
Jenny Saville Now
On the occasion of a major survey of the artist’s work, Dr. Simon Groom, Director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, studies the evolution of Jenny Saville’s practice.
July 22–28, 2020
In her depictions of the human form, Jenny Saville transcends the boundaries of both classical figuration and modern abstraction. Oil paint, applied in heavy layers, becomes as visceral as flesh itself, each painted mark maintaining a supple, mobile life of its own. As Saville pushes, smears, and scrapes the pigment over her large-scale canvases, the distinctions between living, breathing bodies and their painted representations begin to collapse.
Photo: courtesy the artist
Jenny Saville: Oxyrhynchus is available for online reading from July 22 through August 21 as part of Artist Spotlight: Jenny Saville. This publication features more than a dozen works from 2006 to 2014 in which the artist references the layer upon layer of discoveries at Oxyrhynchus, a city in upper Egypt that was established in 332 bce and is considered one of the world’s most important archaeological sites. The final effect is a mysterious narrative of layered bodies and images, conveyed in a combination of oil, charcoal, and pastel. An essay by art historian John Elderfield, built around the observations of multiple past voices and the artist herself, captures the temporal culture of visual art to which the Oxyrhynchus canvases belong.
Jenny Saville: Oxyrhynchus (London: Gagosian, 2015)
Extended through July 23, 2018
May 3–July 23, 2018
West 21st Street, New York