On the 23rd of June Blueprint embarked on their second field trip to Edinburgh! The morning began early in Dumfries for most and earlier still for me as I hopped on a plane from Barcelona! Though rather tired from the journey, after a week of sun and tapas I was eager to sample some culture from somewhere a little closer to home. The temperature change, however, was not a welcome one.
Upon arrival, first stop was the National Gallery on The Mound! Following a whistle stop tour and a planning meeting for a future project we were off to see the main event!
The scale of Jenny Saville’s work is incredible and although it comes nowhere near to dwarfing the Neo-classical high ceilings and deep-silled windows of Modern One, it sits as if commissioned for the space. The warm summer light pouring in belies the tone of art on display. Though I studied Saville at school I’d never seen any of her pieces in the flesh and by all accounts there was a lot of flesh on show. Beautiful, brutal and affronting; Saville’s work has always been an affecting mix of vibrancy and violence and whilst a first glance her newer work seems tamer, on closer inspection there is a more subtle, sensitive undercurrent of unrest in the washed-out frantic brushstrokes. It’s almost as if, unlike before, the violence is no longer inflicted directly on the subjects of each painting but their entire surroundings are in a constant state of chaos, undulating and pulsing with movement, though her figures are stationary. This makes sense when you realise the creative catalyst behind her new work is the Syrian Refugee crisis. Near transparent bodies, intertwined and almost indistinguishable from one another, depersonalised, serving as a backdrop to the battle raging around them, on which they have no effect.
I can’t discuss Jenny Saville without talking about her chosen subject type. Real bodies. Curvy, flat chested, big footed, hairy or hairless, used and more often than not, abused. Celebrated not because they fit in with our preconditioned idea of beauty but thrusting unapologetically out of the canvas in all their grotesque fleshy glory. Grotesque not because they’re ugly, grotesque because they are unflinchingly human and all the more beautiful and striking as a result.
Saville’s work, to my surprise, sat perfectly amongst the more permanent large scale sculptural installations that make Modern One and Two so popular, despite being the most “traditional” work by far. It demonstrates what, as a portrait artist myself, I’ve always believed. Good portraiture, rendered with real emotion and honestly transcends trends and fashion, because it cuts us to the core of what it is to be human and that will never get old.
Written by Emily Cooper.