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â€œFemalesâ€, says British artist Jenny Saville, â€œare used to being looked at.â€ As one of the most successful painters of the last two decades, Saville has kept her gaze firmly on the female form.
She made her name with large-scale paintings of almost grotesquely fleshy women. The obsession started during her studies at the University of Cincinnati, where she encountered: â€œLots of big women. Big white flesh in shorts and T-shirts.â€
The Manic Street Preachers are long-time fans of Savilleâ€™s work, having used her painting Strategy on the cover of their third album, 1994â€™s The Holy Bible.
At that time Richey Edwards was still the bandâ€™s lyricist, while Saville was one of the bright stars of the â€œYoung British Artistâ€ movement. Edwards disappeared mysteriously in 1995 and was only declared â€œpresumed deceasedâ€ in November 2008.
Journal for Plague Lovers, Manic Street Preachersâ€™ ninth album, is comprised entirely of lyrics that he left behind. Explaining the tribute on their official website, the band said that all â€œ13 songs on the new record feature lyrics left to us by Richey. The brilliance and intelligence of the lyrics dictated that we had to finally use them.â€
The band also felt compelled to use Savilleâ€™s 2005 painting Stare for the cover. Frontman Jame Dean Bradfield told BBC â€œWe just thought it was a beautiful painting. We were all in total agreement. We just saw a much more modern version of Lucian Freud-esque brushstrokes.â€
Inspired by a newspaper cutting, the painting depicts an androgynous girl with a large birthmark on her face. But when presented with the image on a CD cover, Britainâ€™s main supermarket chains saw something else entirely. Thinking that the image depicted a young buy with a bloodied face, they deemed the cover â€œinappropriateâ€ and refused to carry the album unless it was shipped in a plain slipcover.
Nicola Williamson, Sainsbury’s music buyer, said: “We felt that some customers might consider this particular album cover to be inappropriate if it were prominently displayed on the shelf.â€
Having unwittingly contributed a new entry into the pantheon of banned album covers, Bradfield described the situation as â€œutterly bizarreâ€. “You can have lovely shiny buttocks and guns everywhere in the supermarket on covers of magazines and CDs, but you show a piece of art and people just freak out,” he said.
â€œA large female body has a power, it occupies a physical space, yet thereâ€™s an anxiety about it.â€ Saville once said of her art, â€œIt has to be hidden.â€ Many are distressed that the same seems to be the case for a disfigured tomboy.
Journal for Plague Lovers may have been the most controversial cover of 2009, having accidentally sparked a dialogue about art, the body and censorship. Youâ€™d like to think that Richey Edwards, known for his highly political songwriting, is smiling somewhere.
This article was first featured in Monster Children Magazine