Central Panel_Rosetta, 2005
The female gaze
Alison RobertsSunday 20 April 2003 16.07 BST
Jenny Saville, an undoubted heavy-weight of the Britart movement, was one of Charles Saatchi's early protégés. Upon viewing one of her degree show paintings in a London gallery in 1992, he commissioned 15 new works for the Saatchi collection - effectively keeping her in paint and brushes for the next two years - and exhibited them in the Young British Artists III show of 1994. Career-wise, she's never looked back.
Saville's blatantly feminist subject matter - obese and sometimes faceless women whose vast bodies resemble mottled pink relief maps or hugely rendered versions of ancient fertility charms - partly originates in a trip to America made midway through her course at the Glasgow School of Art.
In Ohio, she visited the malls where 'you saw lots of big women. Big white flesh in shorts and T-shirts,' she has said, all of whom 'had the physicality that I was interested in'. Living in New York in 1994, she spent hours observing the work of a plastic surgeon named Dr Weintraub whose interventional techniques not only influenced her anatomical understanding of excessive human fat, but fuelled her interest in the extremes of bodily shape and, in some cases, deformity. She has described her paint as 'pots of liquid flesh'.
If Saville's feminism lies in a clear-eyed and unromantic view of the average female form - undistorted by sexual desire or notions of idealised femininity - it's hard to know whether her subjects (some clearly self-portraits) revel in their obesity, or are disgusted by it. They just exist, like standing stones of solid human flesh, or in the case of Host (2000), solid, dead, pig flesh. Saville has often been compared to Lucian Freud, though she herself feels 'much closer to Bacon and de Kooning'. Currently teaching painting part-time at the Slade School of Art, at 33, Saville regularly achieves high six-figure sums for her work.