Jenny Saville: ‘Humans Are Just Drawn to Eyes’

Jenny Saville in front of her drawing “Pietà 1,” in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, in Florence. Credit… Jenny Saville/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Clara Vannucci for The New York Times.

Jenny Saville speaks in all the quotes here.

Italy is a country of figuration, so I feel very at home here — but it was intimidating. I got through by really looking at Michelangelo… I started to do direct studies of the sculpture, and I saw how the internal torque of the bodies worked… He uses all the possible elements of a body, whether it’s the tilt of a head, the way a hand rests on somebody else’s flesh, the way material folds — all of them are used to heighten emotion, without sentimentality.

Saville’s “Byzantium” (2018)Credit…Jenny Saville/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Clara Vannucci for The New York Times.

I look at artists like Twombly, Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning — all the New York School that used paint as a poetic language in itself — and try to channel some of those things into figurative work. I love to start by dripping a lot of acrylic, and you see through the drips, so you get this kind of inner light. I think all the time about how to use this language of paint to get as much emotion as I can.

“The moment I put eyes on something, it’s just seems that the world coalesces in the painting,” said Saville of her recent portraits, “because humans are just drawn to eyes. Credit…Jenny Saville/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Clara Vannucci for The New York Times.

I love making the big heads because it’s a chance to be very abstract. The moment I put eyes on something, it seems that the world coalesces in the painting, because humans are just drawn to eyes. Most artists start with a figurative structure and then abstract from there, but I start by creating abstract areas of paint as the foundation, and then build figuration on top and let the abstraction show through in places — the same way Michelangelo would build a form from rough marble.

(Laura Rysman, “Jenny Saville’s Nudes Bring Renaissance Masters Down to Earth,” NYTimes, 10-8-21)

(c) 2021 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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