Looming before us is the vast, red face of a woman caught like a rabbit in the headlights, her blue eyes contrasting jarringly with the red of her face. In Figure 11.23, painted in 1997, Jenny Saville has created an arresting image of a woman painted in unnatural colours. There is a profound and cutting honesty to this painting, which is deliberately unflattering and which relates to some of the paintings of people in surgery which Saville has also created. Pertinently, some of those people were undergoing cosmetic surgery, introducing a concept of beauty and the sacrifices that people make in order to attain or capture beauty that for Saville is not merely parallel but is instead integrally linked to art. By choosing to paint women in a vulnerable state, she is deliberately challenging traditional notions of aesthetics. This challenge is emphasised by the scale of this picture, which is over a metre and a half tall but which shows a cropped image of the womans face, makes it imposing, even monumental. The daunting and enveloping size of the canvas is the result of a deliberate decision on Savilles part, as she seeks to provoke an intense one-to-one all-exclusive relationship between painting and viewer:
'Its the effect of intimacy through scale that I want. Although large paintings are so often associated with grandeur, I want to make large paintings that are very intimate. I want the painting to almost surround your body when you stand very close to it. Rothko creates an intimacy through scale. When you stand very close to his paintings the colour hums and vibrates through you it - almost wraps around you. Its a childlike feeling... I want the feeling that you dont only command the piece of work, the piece of work also commands you (Saville, from M. Gayford, 'A Conversation with Jenny Saville, pp. 29-31, in Jenny Saville Territories, exh.cat., New York, 1999, p. 31).
Saville has filled the entire picture surface of Figure 11.23 with richly-worked, highly-textured oils. These are so painterly and gestural as to give a sense of the artists own physical exertions in creating the picture, implying an almost violent application of brush to canvas, recalling the paintings of the Abstract Expressionists and of Willem de Kooning. Yet the machismo usually associated with Action Painting has been subverted. Here, the gender reversal means that a woman is shown staring out from the canvas, and she has been painted by a woman. The male gaze has been deliberately turned on its head: Saville has taken a theme so often associated with outdated ideas of female beauty and has discarded and distorted it, creating something new, confrontational and raw. 'Over history, conventionally women have been looked at, rather than being people who look, Saville has explained. 'As an artist, your role is to look. So I was combining these two things (Saville, from ibid., p. 30).