Looking through the work built up in part 1, and the free study I did accompanying it, with hindsight I think I failed to apply certain lessons from the exercises provided by the course. The first aspect of this is in the use of versatile marks in a single piece. During the Dramatic Marks section we explored just that, but then I went on to do several charcoal studies that were very tight…perhaps I need to loosen the wrist a little to explore the possibilities of this medium. I will be exploring several artists that I hope will encourage me to do this.
I looked at Jenny Saville’s charcoal study of Mother and Children (a study for a painting, The Mothers), as recommended by my tutor. In general I find her entire body of work very truthful, at least to a part of me.
There is a great recent interview with her where she talks about her career history and ideas that have fed into her work. She is a figurative painter primarily – although that is quite a reductive description*.
These works very prominently mix and layer tentative and decisive marks, quickly-made contours and more careful tonal anatomical study. Mother and Children is quite gentle, whereas In the Realm of the Mothers II reads like an explosion. The latter also incorporates vertical segmentation of the canvas, and squares that could be backdrops, or frames within frames – a technique that is used in films not only to add draw the viewer’s eye into its depths, but also to suggest, for example, the juxtaposition of different psychological worlds.
Saville did the Mother and Children work in a period when she was looking ‘under the surface’ of painting. This idea manifested itself in a number of ways. There is the cultural aspect – the patriarchy that envelopes European art history (with women sealed delicately inside that envelope), and how that has affected culture and women’s body politics today. There is also the aspect of the medium itself – in the recent interview I mentioned, she talks about the revelation of seeing the great abstract painters such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning in New York, and the effective this had on her use of tone.
These are part of her Pentimenti series, which intends to uncover the layers of evolution that bring a work from its beginning to end. With paint, the layers are obscured, but she brings them to life by contriving to draw one version over another. As well as describing – albeit in this sort of caricatured form – the process of making, this primarily introduces a dynamism to the work, bringing out the movement of the model. This stylistic decision is brilliantly suited to Mother and Children, as anyone who has ever tried to hold a squirming baby can attest to. It is a clever ‘trick’, and it is effective…as the futurist movement of the early 20th century demonstrated…but I can’t help feeling that Pentimenti doesn’t quite fit as a name.