Creative projects are essential to maintaining a sense of purposefulness, excitement and sanity. I start an MA in Art Psychotherapy at Goldsmiths in September 2010. This will be a real challenge with a 2 year old. I want to find some hours each week to make work and I expect to see major developments in my practice and self expression. This is my creative project; ‘2 hours a day’.
Last week I started to play a wonderful CD given to me by my friend Jo. A compilation of interesting, rhythmic Parisian, African, South American, ambient sounds. So good infact, that every single track is even better than the one before … which is totally fantastic! Winni and I had a great time dancing around the bedroom with plenty of facial gestures to accompany our moves. I also discovered that I can in fact lie down on the sofa and Winni will very happily carry on dancing or start drawing and that I can perhaps also just relax and supervise from a reclining position. This is tempting (of course?!).
At one point while I lay there watching her dance, marvelling at her rhythm and freedom of movement and the beautiful shapes she made in the space around her – I wondered about how I might capture that image and the feeling. I also chastised myself for not just being present and tried harder to ‘be in the moment’! Then, I just couldn’t help myself and… I got my mobile phone out and tried to take some pictures. But, my phone is on its last legs (there is a delay of about 3 seconds on the camera), and Winni is not particularly up for being photographed – why should she be! So I ended up with 8 completely blurred shots of her dancing.
The next day, at sleep time, which is when I sometimes get my hour or two to do something – I was sitting looking at a blank piece of fabriano paper. I had taped it up on my old drawing board which we recently moved from the bedroom where it has been ignored for some time to the sitting room where it will no doubt still get ignored but maybe not completely. I was thinking how nice it would be to start a painting or drawing if only I could think of something to work from. And then I remembered that I myself have said it’s ok to work from photos on more than one occasion – “so”… I thought, “why not work from photos? – anything. As long as it gets you started!”
I jumped up from my seat, trying not to think about it too much in case the thinking stopped the doing – got out my charcoals and with the phone in my left hand and a drawing implement in my right I started moving my right hand across the page – I flicked through the photos of Winni dancing and kept moving from one to another resting on each for a moment and making a mark in response to it on the paper. And then starting again. At some point I got paint out and did the same thing, working quickly across seven figures. Winni had on a wonderful stripy, long dress (sent by her great Aunty Tricia) and I used the colour in the dress to focus on making the shapes of her dancing. All blurred images but enough to get the sense of a figure and of movement.
High points were… really feeling her dancing and being transported back to the moment of watching her. Trying to capture the line of her neck and thinking how well I know that delicate neck; how it looks, feels, smells. I know that little leg and arm etc. etc. It was amazing to feel so engaged and alive with the subject and the process of making marks. Low points were really feeling the rustiness in my looking and my ability to make my implements do what I want them to do, to make the line curve in such a way as to suggest a tummy to make the shadow in the fabric suggest a swish of the skirt. etc. etc. But that’s all OK and to be expected.
Later that same evening I was sitting with Mike and Bill, they were playing chess and I was looking at my work on the drawing board. I had an intense little private moment about the whole process I had been through and… it was good. I wondered if this is what artists experience when they feel a compulsion to paint or draw. I can see I am trying to express so much in that little piece in front of me.
Pots of Liquid Flesh…last part
Nochlin, who famously asked first in 1970 and again in 1980, ‘Why have there been no great women artists?” is impressed with Saville’s ‘painterliness’ and thinks she is one of the most interesting and exciting painters of our time. She writes about her work, “although the surface and the grid both play an important role in Saville’s formal language, both are melted down and sharpened up by the virtuoso yet oddly repulsive brushwork that marks her style”.
In what may be her most current interview in May 2005 Simon Shama asked Jenny Saville about the types of bodies she paints. Her answer to this question and her analysis seem more sophisticated than earlier interviews.
“I try to find bodies that manifest in their flesh something of our contemporary age…I don’t paint portraits in a traditional sense at all. If they are portraits, they are portraits of an idea or a sensation”.
While living in New York, Saville observed the work of a plastic surgeon, Dr. Barry Martin Weintraub. She took photos of the operations and became interested in the ‘manipulations’ that could be made to the body. Importantly for her work she also gained insight into the psychological factors behind these changes to the body.
I stumbled across Jenny Saville’s work by accident. I was looking at images of Lucian Freud’s paintings, which I have been drawn to since I first saw them as a teenager, and found some images of Saville’s figures which really excited me. I was drawn to the images, without realising that the canvases were so huge. I find the fact she’s a female painter – inspiring. I read about her working from photographs which was a bit of a shock but also a relief. I had been trying to paint from the nude (using myself in the mirror) and felt I now had permission to explore working from photographs. This gave me something new to explore in my own work which felt liberating.
When I look at ‘Branded’, ‘Prop’, or ‘Propped’, all painted in 1992 or ‘Plan’ which is 9x7ft painted in 1993 and I mark out with a tape measure on my sitting room wall the dimensions and imagine sitting in front of the painting looking up at those images – I ask myself what these paintings are about. My head is full of the critiques I have read – some almost impossible to comprehend and a little intimidating. I see images that are strong and bold and by which I am humbled. I wonder if Saville gives us a female body – a nude – which makes us work. My eye darts across the paintings and I flick between the full paintings and the close up photographs to try and understand how the paint is applied to create these fleshy bodies. They are not easy on the eye and that is not their intention.
‘Plan’ draws me in, holds me transfixed and I crave to be able to stand in front of the real thing. These are unfamiliar images of the female body. Those available for public consumption (in newspapers, magazines and even in art) tend to be idealised images of a beautiful, thin female body. Saville’s bodies are ordinarily covered up or left indoors. Big breasts may be desirable but Saville’s breasts are huge colossal mammaries that are intimidating, hardly sexually alluring. These bodies do not lend themselves to voyeurism.
The naked body in ‘Plan’ is brave and bold. The towering figure looks down and demands your attention in a way that other common images of female bodies do not. I wonder whether these nudes are attractive to the male gaze and I think probably not. If her work critiques the young, alluring female body which has long belonged to the male painter/artist – I wonder if Saville’s naked bodies intend to confront or even repulse the average male viewer. They certainly don’t facilitate the normal consumption of the female form which, it could be argued, has been legitimated by a male aesthetic approach to figurative art. In this sense ‘Plan’ liberates the viewer and the figure depicted is liberated too.
Pots of Liquid Flesh contd.
At Glasgow, Saville found only one female painting tutor but she followed in the footsteps of Scottish painters like Stephan Campbell, Ken Currie, and Peter Howson, all of whom had the same tutor – Sandy Moffat.9 She learnt about feminism and its influences on art practice and was influenced by work of French feminists Luce Irigary and Julia Kristeva and the artist Cindy Sherman.
Feminist critiques of representation at the time were arguing that the image of ‘women’ was constructed by men through a male dominated media and shaped the way women saw themselves and how they experienced being a women.10 These ideas were reflected by female artists. Even as a child looking through art books, Saville realised there were no women artists and she started to wonder why not.
“Could I make a painting of a nude in my own voice?” she asked, “It’s such a male-laden art, so historically weighted. The way women were depicted didn’t feel like mine, too cute. I wasn’t interested in admired or idealised beauty.”
Saville uses masses of photographs to create her ‘monumental nudes’. Often they are photographs of herself or bits of her friend’s bodies. They are not self portraits as Saville has said herself in the Monograph interview with David Sylvester, “I use me all the time because it’s really reliable, you’re there all the time”. She also likes the idea of using herself because “it takes you into the work”. She talks about how women have so often been the subject-object and this has an important implication for her not wanting to be just the person ‘looking and examining’. Females, as she says, are used to being looked at and she wants to be able to do both; looking and being looked at.
She also works from photographs of bruises and other injuries from medical textbooks. All are used as reference. Finding out what causes a stretch mark from a medical book, for example, helps her understand how to paint them. She’s aware of the ‘snobbery’ against using photos when painting from life – but doesn’t care. Using photographs of fragments of the body is a pragmatic approach particularly given the sheer size of her paintings and her subject. She doesn’t paint while looking at the figure. Instead she will have a model for a day and take rolls of film of close ups. Then, climbing up and down scaffolding with the use of a grid and mirrors she embarks on her paintings.
She is really interested in painting areas of flesh rather than the female body as such. “It’s as if the paint tends to become the body… When I put the paint on in layers, it’s like adding layers of flesh. There are areas of thick flesh, where the paint becomes more dense”. She mixes up large quantities of different colours in maybe three hundred pots rather than working from a palette. She tries to paint in a sculptural way.