Mark Stevens, an art critic and Willem de Kooning scholar, titles his essay on the work of artist Jenny Saville with a famous line by de Kooning: “Flesh was the reason oil painting was invented.” If there is a single artist working today who truly gets flesh, it is Jenny Saville.
Saville rose to rockstar status in the art world as a member of the Young British Artists. Charles Saatchi, a leading British art collector, purchased many works directly from her senior show at Glasgow College. She has since enjoyed an illustrious career. With the monograph, Jenny Saville, Rizzoli publishers have released what they are describing as her most definitive book. Alongside the 320 pages of plates depicting her work, the volume contains two essays (one by Stevens and another by Richard Calvocoressi), a chronology of her career and an engaging conversation between the artist and photographer Sally Mann.
The book, much like her paintings, is large in scale. Frankly, it is the largest book I own. The linen cover is dressed in a dust jacket, illustrated with a closely cropped painting of a face that bleeds off the page. The book cozily fits into a protective slipcase: “Jenny Saville” boldly printed in a black serif font on the plain white spine. It is a beautiful aesthetic object. But it also seems more than that: delicate, precious, special—like a sacred object.
Yes, its “specialness” comes in part from the quality and craftsmanship of its printing, and of course the way that the price tag reflects that quality. More than that, though, its sacredness comes from the content held within. Fundamentally it is a book about flesh: an assemblage of figurative paintings and drawings printed on beautiful lustre pages.
There is something for Catholics to grab on to in this meditation on flesh. John the Evangelist writes, “The word became flesh.” The Eucharist is the flesh and blood of Christ. Before the Apostle Thomas could believe, he had to feel Jesus’ wounds with his own hands. He reaches out and touches the flesh of the risen messiah in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. The Catholic imagination—or, more specifically, my Catholic imagination—is illuminated by this incarnational consciousness. A consciousness informed by the strange mystery of God who “was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” – Read the full article at America Magazine