This evening I saw Jenny Saville speak at BU. She spoke of flesh and bodies, of meat, carcasses, of cadavers, cosmetic surgeons' fists in women's breasts, torture, burn victims, blindness, disease.
In the end, during questions and answers, a young woman lost it. She said she had been traumatized by the images in the lecture, and Saville, as an artist, had some responsibility to warn people (even though there was a sign outside this free voluntary lecture briefing its content) and to paint and speak with some freaking empathy, for the love of god. The images, Saville's voice and expression, they were all just so cold. This girl was really upset. "I'm significantly more traumatized now than when I walked in here," she kept saying, voice trembling, even after Saville answered her over and over by essentially saying, "I'm an artist, my job is to make art from the world around us, not babysit your fragile little mind."
Now that's art.
I loved to hear about her influences. I totally called Rembrandt, Freud, Velasquez, Bacon. She showed us specifically where she had been influenced by whom, down to ways to combine reds and whites (actually, she used the word, "steal," instead of "influenced"). The way she talked about light and the paint itself, you could tell how obsessed she had always been with the medium and the process. Also interesting, she showed a lot of paintings from various periods in her career, and ended the comments on them with, "I actually think I totally failed here. No, I don't like this painting at all."
She lives in a large piazza in Florence with her two children, three nannies, and twenty-two paintings-in-progress at any given time. A young art student who came up all the way from Miami asked her what her painting schedule was like, to which she answered, "Well, I wake up and paint from eight to six, then spend a couple of hours with the kids. Feed them. Put them to bed. Then I'm back in the studio from about eight till one am." Slight British stuttering pause. "I used to paint all night, actually, but since I've had the kids, I've had to paint, um, slightly less."