With Frieze in full swing, i-D online caught up with British figurative painter Jenny Saville to find out about her latest project for Women for Women International.
Richard Serra, Cecily Brown, Antony Gormley, and Taryn Simon are amongst some of the invited artists who have donated their work to Women for Women International. This project, which has been devised by Jenny Saville and producer Nadja Romain, will raise money for the charity, providing essential support for women in conflict zones across the globe. It began with a series of hand written letters sent out to fifty artists. Those who responded were included in an exhibition at The Gagosian Gallery London earlier this month. Tomorrow the works will be auctioned at Christies to coincide with Frieze and the launch of Artists for Women for Women International. i-D online spoke to Saville about the work she produced and the importance of contemporary artists supporting the charity.
How did you become involved with Women for Women International? I became friends with Nadja Romain last year whilst she was organising a project for the charity. I donated a piece of work for the project and it was auctioned at Christies and got quite a bit of money. Then, Nadja and I just said “why don’t we do something bigger next year?” and we met Zainab Salbi who is the CEO of Women for Women international. We started working with them and began putting together ideas. It was very simple. Nadja and I produced a list of artists we admired. We both wrote them hand written letters to ask whether they would like to be involved in the charity. Then I asked Larry Gagosian, my dealer, if we could borrow the gallery for a week to put a show on and he said yes. It was quite a simple process actually. I think the charity just struck a chord that there is such a discrepancy in women’s lives across the globe. Zainab Salbi is such an inspirational figure and I liked that it was such a practical solution. I’m not overtly political but it felt like something I could do. So I decided to get involved.
How did you go about selecting the artists involved? And were you conscious of including male artists? That was just a very natural thing to do. It wasn’t like we could only have female artists, it was really thinking about artists we liked. In the end it was a combination of artists we knew and were friends with anyway. It was as simple as that. We wrote fifty letters and we have twenty-two artists, so it has been a great response.
The majority of artists made new work to donate to the project, can you talk about the drawing you produced? I have been working a lot with maternity subjects and I liked the idea of using the image of a pregnant woman for the charity. I used it because it is such a universal subject. At that time I had been doing a lot of drawings, so that became the reason for doing that piece.
Tracey Emin commented on her involvement with the project: “as a woman you understand more than anyone”. Is that something you also felt? Yes, I think for female artists especially. There is not a huge generation of women artists in history that are terribly well known and so, socially and politically somebody fought for our rights. All of us, Tracey Emin, Rachel Whiteread from this generation were given opportunities so that we could be taken seriously. I guess it is an opportunity to stand from a point of freedom and offer somebody else that journey. That is quite powerful for a lot of female artists.
Have you found that in your career there have been restraints with being a female painter working in a largely male dominated medium? I actually can’t say that because I have had so many opportunities. I think in the art world it is one of the more open areas of life were women have been able to carve out a sense of self. It is a relatively new thing for women. If I had been born 100 years ago, my work wouldn’t have been taken seriously and I wouldn’t have had the independent means in order to practice my art, to hire a studio and all of those things that come with social mobility.
What’s next for your involvement in Women for Women International? Nadja and myself are already trying to think up new angles so we can raise more money for them. I think it is a powerful organisation and an important thing to support. It was shocking how positive the response from other artists has been and from the general public actually. Following the ‘Women For Women’ exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery, all of the works will be auctioned at Christies on 15th October in their post-war and contemporary day sale during Frieze.
You opened your show at the Gagosian Gallery in NY, what else are you working on for the rest of the year? I am working on a new body of paintings now and I have an exhibition which is an overview of my work opening at the Norten (sp) Museum in Miami, Palm Beach. I am working on a new body of paintings for a show in Euroupe in about 18 months time.
On 15th October Christies will auction the works to coincide with the launch of Artists for Women for Women International.
Text: Isabella Burley