Large Plexiglas boxes hang on the walls, and like enormous picture windows, peer into a massive, greenish-blue, underwater tank. In place of fish, however, there are photographs of giant, fleshy, female forms squashed against sheets of glass. These undulating, twisted figures are manipulated so severely that they’re almost unrecognizable.
Such artwork seems invitingly incongruous in a town as body conscious as Beverly Hills. Yet, upon closer inspection, aesthetic subversion is not the only contradiction that haunts the work. After all, “Closed Contact” is the result of an unlikely pairing of two British artists: Saville, the 31-year-old young painter who also serves as the model, and Luchford, who’s best known for his layouts in Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar.
“A lot of people made their opinions known about the fact that we were working together,” explains Luchford, who met Saville while photographing her for British Vogue in 1994. “I mean, the art world and the world of fashion photography were almost enemy camps back then. If you were an artist, you just didn’t fraternize with commercial artists.”
The 34-year-old Luchford has made his mark in the commercial world. He won the prestigious British Advertising DA&D award for his 1997 Prada campaign and is subsequently a part of the permanent collection of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
He recently screened his directorial debut, “Here to Where” — a film that he financed with earnings from his Prada campaigns — in New York. It tells the true story of a refugee who was trapped in Charles de Gaulle International Airport for 11 years in an immigration quagmire. After premiering at the Edinburgh Film Festival in August, it received both best new feature and audience awards. (Shortly after, Steven Spielberg announced his plans to make a movie about the same story.)
Saville also met commercial success early on in her career. In 1992, while still a student at the Glasgow School of Art, she sold every painting in her senior exhibit, one of which went to influential art collector Charles Saatchi. Saatchi was so captivated by her monumental oversized nudes that he subsequently tracked down each buyer and obtained each one for his own collection. In 1999, her solo show of paintings at the Gagosian Gallery in New York sold out with works going for upward of $100,000 apiece.
Saville’s work veers sharply from fashion imagery, however, especially in its subject matter. Rather than petite models, she opts for fleshy, overweight women who seem to revel in their corporeality — a direct contrast to Luchford, who’s accustomed to working with the size-4 fashion model physiques.
“I like oversized bodies,” says Saville, who’s far more petite and beautiful than her photographs depict. “To me, they suggest the process of change. Their stories are much more interesting than images of supermodels — at least to me.”
What Saville and Luchford share, however, is a fascination with surface — especially the visceral impact of flesh — and a healthy, almost anthropological, view of the fashion world.
“Most women read fashion magazines,” says Saville, who recently worked with designer Craig McDean on a fashion campaign. “So as a woman artist, you move around both areas very fluidly. It’s not a political act to use fashion ideas in your work anymore. And [Glen and I] began working together because I wanted to take photographs of my body for future paintings and I couldn’t get it right. When I saw the first Polaroid, I realized that they didn’t need to be turned into paintings. They were perfect as they were.”
For Luchford, collaborating with Saville has dramatically affected his work. “After working with Jenny, I found it harder and harder to go into work each day,” he confesses. “Because [Jenny and I] only had ourselves to please, I quickly discovered that I was following the subject instead of directing the model into a particular vision. And that was quite liberating.”
Saville recalls how plastic surgery — the ultimate breach of nature in her opinion — led to this current series.
“One day while I was working at a clinic, I watched a surgeon put his fist into a woman’s breast,” she explains matter-of-factly while lighting a Marlboro. “He was trying to make room for an implant. It was a bit disturbing, and after I got home I realized that I needed to capture that sense of alteration, of malleable flesh and of transgression of the body’s boundaries.”
Given the Brits’ squeamishness for bodily horrors, London wasn’t the city of choice for the show’s debut.
“I immediately chose L.A. because in terms of body image, [this work] goes against everything L.A. stands for,” says Saville. “It’s the capital of plastic surgery.”