Saville’s monumental portraits explore the human body and its fascinating aesthetic potential. Her bold and sensuous impressions of surface, line, and mass oscillate between rational and irrational forms, capturing a unique kind of realism specific to the twenty-first century. Titled after the ancient Greek personification of hope left behind at the bottom of Pandora’s box—a spirit traditionally associated with the burdens of human suffering, rather than positivism—the paintings in Elpis are grounded in tangible realities while reaching toward their mythological dimensions.
Though resolutely of its time, Saville’s art speaks to a profound reckoning with the primordial lineage of humanity. The ancient world comprises one of her most enduring sources of inspiration. In the past, she has presented the human figure as classical sculpture, melding marble and flesh through a complex layering of body parts and transhistorical artistic tributes. In the massive canvases presented at her solo exhibition Oxyrhynchus at Gagosian, Britannia Street, London, Saville intertwined palimpsestic silhouettes and fleshly forms, alluding to the trove of documents and literature that lay dormant in the famed titular Egyptian archeological site for millennia. Saville’s painting is steeped in a multitude of times and places. Working with expressive and energetic brushstrokes, she creates dramatic juxtapositions of color and shimmering light effects that recall Byzantine icons and mosaics, which were designed to take on a spellbinding and spiritually transcendent glow when lit by flickering candlelight. Saville also illuminates some of the works in Elpis with gold oil bar, invoking the precious metal’s association with divine embodiment, a tradition dating back to the ancient Egyptians, who imagined gold to be the “flesh of the gods,” and the Greek myth of Danaë, who was impregnated by Zeus in a shower of golden rain.
Saville’s references and techniques span Western art history—combining the striking chiaroscuro of Baroque portraiture with the dappled light of Impressionist plein air painting—and also encompass snapshots and visual effects from everyday life. The raw chromatic vitality of Saville’s new works was largely inspired by her recent travels to Australia, where she encountered the luminous, fleshy palette of Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s virtuoso paintings. For the fiery-toned pastel painting Prism (), Saville combines her tribute to the Indigenous Australian artist with another: she created this work using a set of crayons purchased from Henri Roché’s La Maison du Pastel, a famous art supply store in Paris once frequented by Edgar Degas.
Exhibition Dates: Till December 22, 2020