It’s time for big buttocks and thighs, bigger than anything that Lucian Freud daubed. This is Jenny Saville time, whose oeuvre in my opinion outclasses that of ‘the greatest British artist since WWII’ anytime (or one of them at least). I know we’re not supposed to rate artists in this way (judge not lest ye be judged) but what the hell? Another gallery here has some Bacons in it, where he is described as the Greatest British Artist of the Post War Era (GBAPWE). And as the Turner Prize Committee ordained, ‘anything you think about art is right.’ No, in my opinion Saville is miles ahead of Freud. Freud only says ‘this is flesh’ whereas Saville says this is flesh, this is movement, this is profound and above all meaningful. She’s not here to paint breasts as if they were merely swirly flowerpots in a kind of post-Rubens semi-industrialised porn-scenario with some lovingly portrayed floorboards underneath. She is capturing much more than that, and the scale of these works begs us to engage with it. Scale isn’t everything of course, least of all when it exposes an absence of imagination (in other words when it seeks to hide something in plain sight). There’s none of that here. References to Plato, to conflict, pain, etc., etc., abound. She relates to her subjects (all women), she doesn’t stand above them with a salacious brush panting with hues of pink.
A New Era: Scottish Modern Art 1900 to 1950, Modern Two to 10th June 2018
Across the road at Modern Two we see a collection of works by disparate artists influenced by the major European movements (mainly from Paris) of the day. There’s a whiff of apology that the assembled artists were not at the forefront of these movements. But there are some outstanding examples and I’ll mention the one that stood out most for me. This was Robert Henderson Blyth’s In The Image Of Man (1947) a large oil painting showing a smashed and headless crucified body on a blasted cross against a background of war torn devastation. On the figure’s body there remains some gold gilding, suggesting the statue had a happier life perhaps on the high altar of some church. The still fully gilded decapitated head lies amongst the rubble, eyes closed in a peaceful repose, perhaps in silent contemplation of the hollow statue which is centrepiece in the picture. Henderson Blyth served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War Two, so was familiar with mortality. The catalogue suggests that the head of Christ reminds us that “resurrection followed crucifixion and provides a glimmer of hope.” Of course, with my new atheist hat on, I can’t see much hope in having your head blasted off, least of all if it reveals the shattered hollowness of your body. The catalogue notes that the work’s title quotes a reference in Genesis – man ‘made in the image of God,’ and suggests that the painting shows a humanity that “is broken and degraded and far from the image of God.” I prefer the artist’s Wikipedia entry which says more bluntly “the painting's title parodies the Judeo-Christian concept of man made in the image of God.” This suggests not a lament but a more critical attitude on Henderson Blyth’s part. He produced this picture when he was only 28, and sadly he died at age 51.