Identity insights from Jenny Saville and Cindy Sherman

Identity insights from Jenny Saville and Cindy Sherman

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I have been thinking about a few of my favorite courageous artists. Jenny Savelle paints baroque-esq paintings of herself and her flesh. Beautifully painted on a grand scale, but our society would also use the adjective “fat”. She progressed into painting the reality of cosmetic surgery and it’s ugliness. All the while, using her body as projected image. I saw her in New York several years back, and she was average build – not more than size 10. Painting images of herself in “grotesque” ways is unique and courageous. Is that how she sees herself?



Cindy Sherman fashions ambiguous but memorable characters in self-portraits photographs. She changes her clothes and hair, adds rubber features to become others. She is also couragous, she assumes anothers’ identity, but this time without a whif of what’s her own identity is showing.



That brings me to a point in my own paintings. Both artists touch self-identity in specific ways. Perhaps we see Jenny’s feeling about her own body image? Are we seeing Cindy’s self-image as something she’s wanting to completely change? I have been thinking a great deal about the identity (and self-identity) of each of my stigma paintings. I am tapping into deep seated predjuices and each of the mental illness themes from my internal view.



My first painting in my series tells how I really feel about the edge of treatment. “Snap out of it and move forward is not a choice I have”. We all have dark days of depression, but luckily most of us can say – “tomorrow, I am going to get up and pull out of this”. And tomorrow does bring the sunshine back. But, for others, they cannot. And that’s when treatment and compassion helps.



Even as I speak about these artworks there’s a internal conflict of suppression going on inside me. I fear that identy of these conditions will be superimpossed on my idenity. And as we’ve seen in the sample artists, identity has a mountain of creativity-inducing sparks attached. Yet, I still fear it. And yet still, for each work – I  want to fall into each mental disorder to feel it and know it. I guess my fear is a superficial false fear, because the real fear should be that after I “fall into each disorder”, will I be able to come back into the sunshine?


I have been thinking that Stigma is an identity of sorts. It defines and changes how people see themselves and how others see an illness, not a person. This is a good project. I hope to shine a bit of insight defining 25% of the population without a stigma. Keep watching, my next work deals with deep depression and ignorance of it.


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“We are what we pretend to be,” Kurt Vonnegut bluntly states in the introduction to his novel Mother Night. (Watch out Cindy Sherman!)



“This is Jenny, and this is her Plan: Men paint female beauty in stereotypes; Jenny Saville paints it the way it is.” - interview with Jenny Saville.