Observations: Saville's celebrations of mortality

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The Independent Culture

Many of us spend our time trying not to think about death but the artist Boo Saville embraces it. Known for detailed drawings of human remains in ballpoint pen, and a fascination with evolution, she looks at the macabre with both optimism and brutality. For her fourth solo exhibition, Totem, she returns to her favourite theme.

As well as two large works – one is drawn with permanent pen and depicts an ancient man found in a peat bog; the other is a bleach painting on black fabric of an exhumed body – there will be around six oil paintings of "moments in time", taken from photographs Saville found on the internet. So, alongside several monochrome pieces there will also be a naive, brightly coloured painting of shrunken heads, which has been drawn on top of, and several severed heads pictured in brilliant pink.

"I've always been fascinated with those first moments after people have died, and then at college I studied anatomy and started drawing the life of death. This show is exploring the symbols of death but I'm trying to reassure in my work as much as be brutal," explains the 29-year-old Saville. "Our demise is universally shared so it's a uniting thing."

For Saville, the brutality comes from using domestic materials and "anything I can get my hands on" to make death seem everyday. "I spend a lot of time in the pound shop finding stuff I can use. Working with toilet bleach is quite a bleak, full-on process; I have to wear a gas mask in the dark in my studio, with an overhead projector to mark out the areas."

Totem will be at the Trolley Gallery, London to 13 March (Trolleybooks.com)

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