Jenny Saville has always reveled in rendering flesh. Her earliest show at Gagosian, at the tail end of the 90s, established her ambitious scope: big, generously impasto’d gestural nudes that flew in the face of current painting trends. Lucian Freud once famously said that he wanted his “paint to work as flesh.” Saville also focuses on “paint as flesh,” but not in the service of a heightened form of portraiture that physically embodies the sitter. Rather, Saville is interested in using paint to, as it were, flay the flesh she depicts, deconstructing her subject matter while simultaneously layering it with art historical references.
While that subject matter, usually large female nudes, has remained more or less constant, as has her flesh-and-blood-toned palette, Saville still manages to amaze with Ancestors, her suite of 11 monumental pieces, all completed in 2018. Her allusions to such seminal game-changers as Picasso’s Cubism and Bacon’s shape-shifting are blatant. But Saville’s paintings are kaleidoscopic pentimentos that riff not only on art history but her own well-developed draughtsmanship. The longer one looks at a Saville canvas, the more various images, easily missed at first glance, emerge and converge. These iterations are particularly noticeable in her depictions of interlocking or overlapping hands and feet, occurring here in multiples and evoking Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.
True to its name, the show’s thematic content pivots on ancient archetypes such as the Three Graces and the Pieta, as well as on African art–thus referencing not only Cubism itself, but the Cubists’ fascination with (so-called) primitivism…
To read the rest of Hoban’s review of this fine exhibition, go to Riot Material magazine: https://www.riotmaterial.com/jenny-saville-ancestors/
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