Friday, 18 July 2014

Jenny Saville: Oxyrhynchus

I visited this exhibition shortly before that of Bridget Riley at David Zwerner, and it was interesting to see the obvious differences and approaches to art that both female artists have undertaken in their careers. One through the rigid, disciplined, use of colour and pattern, and the other with the looser application of paint to depict the figure. I am surprised that this is the first solo exhibition of the paintings of Jenny Saville in this country, given her status in the art world, and also the comparisons frequently made between her figurative paintings, and those of the late Lucian Freud, by art critics who refer to her as his natural heir because of the skill with which she handles paint and renders the figure. 

Saville appears to revel in the sensuousness of the paint medium and the resultant mark-making within her work. She is clearly not afraid of size, as these paintings are all completed on a large scale similar to much of her earlier vast canvases.

This new series in the exhibition reference other famous paintings by artists such as Manet and Velazquez and confidently hold their own in comparison. They are tenderly erotic and loaded images. The painting above in which a white female odalisque is locked in a ménage a trois with two black males is sexually provocative. The title of the show - Oxyrhynchus, makes reference to an ancient Egyptian dumping ground of papyrus texts, and she attempts to make parallels with this, her most recent body of work, and the references of other figurative artists throughout art history.

It was also good to see Saville's large pastel and charcoal drawings which display a good sense of tone and movement as she gives the models multiple limbs. I was reminded of Auerbach's charcoal portraits. The multi-layered line work makes them a little convoluted and hard to read, but this semi-abstraction adds to the charm and mystery of the works. It gives them energy, and you get the impression that Saville really enjoys her work. Recommended for lovers of painting and drawing.

Jenny Saville: Oxyrhynchus
until 26th July 2014
Brittania Street
London, WC1