Jenny Saville OXYRHYNCHUS exhibition at Gagosian Gallery

This small but decent collection of Saville resent investigation into mark, movement, art history and of course the human figure  is well worth a visit.

Continuing on from the themes she started with in Continuum I see on the walls an artist in full flow. The work seems to be pouring out of Saville at present. The energy and enthusiasm for this line of investigation is evident in the exuberant marks, drippings from swift brush work and the almost insane working and reworking of the subject. Limbs in various states of finish are drafted in charcoal and pastel then moved again and again. This gives a beautiful sense of movement to the figures making the viewer think of the bigger picture if you like, rather than just admiring the artists handy work. The bigger picture being the action of the subjects. Which are predominately couples intwined in bed.

Also  the marks committed to and left on the drawing plane shows us the energy of the artist herself making the art in her studio. When I look at these I see her darting from left to right, standing back to critic, loading brushes with paint whilst she holds charcoals in the other hand and maybe a pencil between her teeth ready to go. Further more the energy and excitement I feel exuding form these canvas in turn energises and excites me. As I wondered round the gallery space I wished I had a studio 10 minute from the gallery as I felt the urge to rush their, slap as bigger bit of paper as I could find on the wall and get physical! By that I mean use the whole body to make the sweep of line, use fist and thumb and arm in the mark making process, throw paint at the wall, draw and redraw the subject in the same space.

It’s no secret I have been a fan of Saville’s work ever since I came across her stuff around 5 years ago. I’m so impressed with this slight change in direction she has taken just when perhaps her usual larger figures and portraits might have lost there impact a little just from the over exposure. It’s a reminder to all artist to keep work fresh, keep exploring new ideas.

As a ‘wana be’ artist myself I find these works to be a gift. I love it when I can see the workings in the finished painting. Here it’s like Saville has gone one step further and gone and put the sketch book stuff up there too all on the canvases. She seems to have had a basic theme and then done the working as she went. Again giving us a fantastic insight into her working process.

When thinking about the media used I can see that charcoal is very prominent. With large sweeps with the wide side a running theme further uniting an already coherent body of work. The canvas in particular have been prepared with a wide variety of mark making. The marks continue into the creation of the subject matter. A good example of this is another reworking in her trade mark series of paintings ‘Red Stare Head’. Here she uses a can of paint I think to create the circular marks creating the ring around the iris. She then tells us she has done this by repeating the ring mark a few more times over the painted eye and socket area.

Soft pastel also makes an appearance more in the drawings on paper but I think I detect it on the canvases also. This pleases me as I want to try implement the pastels in some less obvious ways, like Saville has, for part 5.

The drawings flow between realism and abstraction effortlessly all on the same plane. Some tend more towards realism whilst others are almost entirely abstracted with only a few ‘is that an arm’? style marks thrown in. Also peeping out through the controlled chaos are art historical references that give us a glimpse into the artists research for the collection. I can see hints of De’Kooning, Picasso mixed with flavours of Renaissance posturing and composition. I also detect a splash of street art style thrown  in for good measure.

From the blurb on the Gagosian Gallery website I have discovered that she has taken inspiration from as far back as the ancient Egyptian rubbish dump at Oxyrhynchus, hence the name of the show.

Saville alludes to this history through a deep layering of paired subjects: faces, torsos, and limbs overlap with shadows and reflections, palimpsests of living bodies and ancestral apparitions. Silhouettes drawn in charcoal through the surfaces of oil paint underscore the motion of the central embracing figures, while evoking the timeless human process of sketching. These intermediate “studies” echo the shifting status of the unearthed papers—once discarded, now treasured. – Press Release from Gagosian Gallery 2014


This work is truly inspiring moving forwards to part 5. If I can get just a smidgin of Saville’s energy and skill into my drawings I’ll be very very happy indeed!

As these works are fresh from the studio and there is a request for permission to use the images property of Gagosian Gallery I have decided not to include any with this post. But if you’d like to see for yourself please click here.





About Emma Perring

Artist, oil painter

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