Review: Jenny Saville, Gagosian London ‘Disturbing and Wonderful’


Jenny Saville’s work fascinates me. Her visions of contorting, fleshy bodies are both disturbing and wonderful. And her marks are so striking and bold… There’s a fearlessness to her work that is arresting and addictive. So I am particularly thrilled that a new, if small, collection of her more recent drawings has opened at Gagosian Gallery on Davies Street.

The show is called Erota and the large drawings are instantly recognisable as Jenny Saville – she has a powerful, distinctive style. But I always get something new each and every time I look at Jenny’s works and, here, the figures seem in flux, agitated. As if in motion. Are they in a dream? A nightmare? Are these many moments captured in a single image?

That seems to be what Jenny was exploring. “I’m trying to see if it’s possible to hold that tipping moment of perception or have several moments co-exist,” she comments in the literature accompanying the show. “Like looking at a memory.”

SAVILLE One out of two (symposium), 2016_GG[1] (2) (1280x869)

Like looking at a memory. What an exploration. Memory is fragmented, and you’re never sure whether what you remember is truth, or whether it was a little bit different. Accuracy is elusive. And that transience is practically tangible in these works. It’s haunting.

And when it comes to drawing the human body, to capturing the folds and soft contours of flesh, few contemporary artists can compare to Jenny. I don’t think I will ever tire of looking at her nudes. For an artist who has challenged notions of beauty all her career, there’s something incredibly important in how she has turned the fleshy bodies that society scorns into objects of beauty.

This display is small, only about a dozen pieces across two rooms, but they are fascinating. If you’re close by, do make an effort to see these as everyone always benefits from an art injection, however small. And Jenny Saville remains one of the most consistent artists who emerged from the YBA scene of the 1990s. Her work continues to challenge and inspire.

Gagosian Gallery, Davies Street, London to July 9, 2016

Admission Free
Image Credits:
1. Jenny Saville, Ebb and Flow, 2015. Oil stain, pastel and charcoal on canvas © Jenny Saville. Photo © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.
2. Jenny Saville, One out of two (symposium), 2016. Charcoal and pastel on canvas © Jenny Saville. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Mike Bruce

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