The young British artist Jenny Saville is often regarded as the only worthy successor of the gentleman painter Lucien Freud. And while at first glance a certain artistic similarity may indeed be discerned, there is a broad conceptual gap separating the two artists. Taking on Lucien Freud's politic of the gaze, Jenny Saville has turned working from the live model to its own end.
Jenny Saville is part of a movement of British artists whose work is conceptually driven with an awareness of discourse and identity politics, a feminist artist in the tradition of Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and Kiki Smith. Her massive paintings of massive bodies make a statement that the body has larger social echoes. Her sensual portraits of grossly overweight women transform fat and flesh into something enigmatically beautiful and sumptuous. In 'Plan 1993' the accentuated excess of an obese naked woman explodes into our space, seductive in the voluptuous indulgence of flesh, and yet negated by contours marked with liposuction traces. Empathy and distance are combined in the oversized image, conveying a perspectival extravagance with great attention to anatomical detail.
Through delicate brushstrokes and confident handling of the paint as a material, she creates sensuous, tactile surfaces that beg to be touched. There is terrific fullness and potent emotion in Saville's interest in the maneuverability and anticipated alteration of flesh. In the artist's own words: "For me it's about the flesh, and trying to make paint behave in a way that flesh behaves. Using its material quality ...to communicate the way a female body behaves. It is not just about the sight of the body. (J. Saville in conversation with M. Gayford, in: 'Jenny Saville Territories', Gagosian Gallery, New York 1999, p. 30). What distinguishes Saville from other paint-obsessed representers of the naked human body, is the power of her brilliant and relentless embodiment of our worst anxieties about our own corporality and gender. (Linda Nochlin "Floating in Gender Nirvana" in 'Art and America', Vol. 88, No. 3, March 2000). Conceptually driven, and based in the world of photography, the artist's work celebrates flesh and form and is thus, in many ways an early twenty-first century answer to the corpulent nudes that populate the work of the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens.