Description: Knead signed and dated 'J. Saville 1995-96' (on the reverse) oil on canvas 54 1/8 x 62in. (137.5 x 157.5cm.) Painted in 1995-96
Artist or Maker: Jenny Saville (b. 1970)
Exhibited: Venice, L Biennale d'Arte di Venezia, June-September 2003.
Literature: Jenny Saville, Territories, exh. cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, 1999, no. 41 (illustrated in colour and incorrectly dated 1994, unpaged).
Provenance: Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris.
Notes: PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
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Sprawling across the large canvas of Jenny Saville's Knead, painted in 1995, the battered and scarred features of a patient undergoing plastic surgery are a sensual yet shocking assault on the viewer sensibilities. Saville relishes the blemishes of the bodies and faces that she paints. In them, she finds and celebrates individuality and character. By filling this canvas with the marked face of the subject, Saville demonstrates her ability to make the repulsive somehow magnetic. There is an immediacy to the flesh in this picture. It spills into our world, and the painterly surface makes it appear all the more organic in its own right: 'For me it's about the flesh, and trying to make paint behave in a way that flesh behaves. Using its material quality, which ranges from a stain to something thick and juicy, to something quite dry. Trying to use mark-making to communicate the way a female body behaves. It is not just about the primacy of vision, it's about using paint, its materiality, in a way that can evoke tactility' (Saville, from M. Gayford, 'A Conversation with Jenny Saville', pp. 29-31, in Jenny Saville Territories, exh. cat., New York 1999, p. 30).
However, it is precisely these blemishes that plastic surgery removes. But by showing the 'during' rather than the 'after', Knead strips away the finalised cosmetic gloss, showing the temporary scars that form the path to supposed beauty: 'Plastic surgeons use computers to create the perfect face, but it will achieve such blandness. What would beauty be, if everyone were the same?' (Saville, quoted in S. Kent, Shark Infested Waters: The Saatchi Collection of British Art in the 90s, London, 1994, p. 84).
Knead attacks the heart of aesthetics both in art and in the world. With the slices of the surgery, the scarred face and the tube coming from the mouth, this painting refutes artistic traditions of idealised beauty, showing instead a grim underlying reality. But this reality is all the more poignant because it is the very same tradition of idealised beauty, so vividly refuted by the painting but now manifesting itself on a societal scale, that has driven the female subject to undergo plastic surgery in the first place. Knead not only strips away the glamour, but also accuses modern society. This is a picture not only of a patient, but also of a victim, Saville celebrating not the finished result but this brief moment in which a life-changing decision is written in flesh across the subject's face.
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