'[Interfacing] has the same sort of intensity you get when you look in the mirror. I think people pull their faces around more then. I mean people do things in front of the mirror that they'd never do in front of other people I wanted that intensity, the way you look at yourself when there's something wrong. That's all you see. You don't see any background, the background is irrelevant, all you see is you'
(Jenny Saville quoted in D. Sylvester, 'Areas of Flesh', Gagosian Gallery (ed.), Jenny Saville, New York 2005, n.p.).
Jenny Saville's Interfacing is a deeply human portrait of a woman, captured in a moment of studied self-reflection. Peering out of the corner of her glassy, grey-blue eyes, she examines her appearance in a mirror, pinching the soft, blushed flesh of her left cheek. Based on photographs of the artist herself, the painting is realised on a larger-than-life scale, the woman's giant visage filling the full extent of the picture plane. This dramatic scale and the almost empirical close-up of the woman's face imports a feeling of intimacy, the spectator being initiated into some deeply private ritual. As Saville has explained, '[Interfacing] has the same sort of intensity you get when you look in the mirror. I think people pull their faces around more then. I mean people do things in front of the mirror that they'd never do in front of other people I wanted that intensity, the way you look at yourself when there's something wrong. That's all you see. You don't see any background, the background is irrelevant, all you see is you' (Jenny Saville quoted in D. Sylvester, 'Areas of Flesh', Gagosian Gallery (ed.), Jenny Saville, New York 2005, n.p.).
The painting offers a hard-hitting realism, Saville's virtuoso brush marks and vitreous paint building up the surface of the canvas to express the physicality and emotional life of her subject. To this end, Saville enjoys the qualities of thick impastoed paint, eschewing the flat photo-realist images of many of her contemporaries. Instead, she seeks to use paint in a sculptural way, recalling Willem de Kooning's famous proclamation, 'flesh was the reason oil paint was invented'. Painted in 1992, Interfacing was one of the artist's first landmark works, catching the attention of prestigious British art collector Charles Saatchi. Saatchi would go on to launch Saville's career, buying up the entirety of her Glasgow School of Art graduate show and adding Interfacing to his collection later that year. By 2004, Saville had become a leading name amongst the stable of celebrated young British artists, exhibiting her rich, corporeal paintings including Interfacing, to great acclaim at the Saatchi Gallery Young British Artists III exhibition, and later contributing to the renowned Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection held at the Royal Academy in 1997.
Saville's practice always seeks to imbue the human figure with life, and she does this through the dense wealth of brush strokes she devotes to canvas. For Saville, 'one skin stands in for another', the paint becoming a metaphor for flesh (Sarah Kent, Shark Infested Waters: The Saatchi Collection of British Art in the 1990s, London 1994, pp. 83-83). In Interfacing, the pale, blotched skin and pink, sanguine flourishes that frame her face, suggest a real pulsating person, filled with breath and coursing with blood. In this respect, Saville recalls the remarkable incarnations of artists such as Diego Velázquez, and Gustav Courbet. As she explained, 'the art I like concentrates on the body artists who get to the flesh. Visceral artists - Bacon, Freud. And de Kooning, of course. He's really my man. He doesn't depict anything, yet it's more than representation, it's about the meaning of existence and pushing the medium of paint.' (Jenny Saville, quoted in S. Mackenzie, 'Under the Skin', Guardian, 22 October 2005, on www.guardian.co.uk).
In Interfacing, Saville depicts the bare, radiant, complexion of a woman with the greatest of devotion, capturing the essence of the subject and importing her emotional life onto canvas. She gazes into a mirror touching the folds of her cheek and inspecting the intimate contours of her face. She seems consumed with her appearance, the qualities of her physiognomy, the tone and texture of her skin. Illuminated in bright light and marking the centre of her right cheek are the tracks of scars, remnants of a skin graft or cosmetic surgery. Situated below is a pronounced protuberance, an unabashed wart highlighted against her pale flushed skin. Saville herself had a similar complaint at the time, as she explains, 'when I did the head [Interfacing], I had a wart too, like her. Everybody used to look at it. It became quite an obsession, so the whole painting grew out of this idea: that all everybody ever sees of you is this wart. So there's no background. The whole thing's flesh' (Jenny Saville quoted in D. Sylvester, 'Areas of Flesh', Jenny Saville, exh. cat. Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2005, n.p.).
Saville has long been fascinated with the idiosyncrasies of the human body and the contemporary quest for conventional beauty. Spending time in the operating theatre, accompanying a plastic surgeon, she became rapt by the malleability of the flesh and the modifications carried out by professionals to those dissatisfied with their aesthetics. In Interfacing however, Saville celebrates human imperfections and the idiosyncratic beauty belonging to each person. As the artist once explained, 'beauty is always associated with the male fantasy of what the female body is [but] there can be beauty in individualism. If there is a wart or a scar, this can be beautiful, in a sense, when you paint it. It's part of your identity. Individual things are seeping out, leaking out (Jenny Saville quoted in D. Sylvester, 'Areas of Flesh', Jenny Saville, exh. cat. Gagosian Gallery, New York 2005, n.p.). Saville herself is an avowed feminist, deeply averse to the prescriptions society arguably places upon the female gender to attain a slender body, aquiline nose or perfect face. 'It's like an epidemic' she says, 'what would beauty be, if everyone were the same?' (Sarah Kent, Shark Infested Waters: The Saatchi Collection of British Art in the 1990s, London 1994, p. 83-84).
In her painting, Saville reclaims the female image from the male-orientated artistic tradition, inviting the viewer to cast their gaze on a blemished, abundantly fallible portrait. The woman is a derivative of Saville herself, the broad fleshy face a product of her photographer's lens and the low perspective that visually distorts her pictorial frame. For Saville the scale of her canvas, and the sheer physicality of her image is an important tool with which to confront any preconceptions or visual prejudices: 'it's 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. It's a childlike feeling... I want the feeling that you don't only command the piece of work, the piece of work also commands you (Jenny Saville quoted in M. Gayford, 'A Conversation with Jenny Saville', M. Dent-Brocklehurst (ed.), Jenny Saville: Territories, exh. cat. Gagosian Gallery, New York, 1999, p. 31). KA