Sylvia Sleigh

Opening on March 29, I-20 Gallery is pleased to open a one-person exhibition for New York-based artist Sylvia Sleigh.  Her work is currently on view in WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, at the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and traveling to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City (2008); and the Vancouver Art Gallery, British Columbia.  In 2006, Sleigh’s work was featured in I-20’s group exhibition, Men, curated by Ellen Altfest  (catalogue available).

Sylvia Sleigh’s work is direct and unrepentant, libidinous and indulgent. She paints friends, allegorical scenes and nudes. Her work dovetails with younger figurative artists painting today but stands apart in its guilelessness and by the obvious pleasure the artist takes in what she sees.  All the subtle differences between people are observed. Instead of only critiquing the objectification of women, Sleigh leads by example. As she has said, “I made a point of finding male models and I painted them as portraits, not as sex objects, but sympathetically as intelligent and admired people, not as women had so often been depicted.”

Sleigh arrived in New York as a figurative painter at a time when other art movements – abstract expressionism, minimalism, pop – were ascendant or about to begin. In the 1970s, during the women’s art movement, Sleigh began to focus on men in her portraits, many of them nude.  In so doing she went against the standard.  In her 1974 essay, “Some Women Realists: Painters of the Figure,” Linda Nochlin wrote that “Sleigh’s male nudes are all portraits, and, so to speak, portraits all the way, down to the most idiosyncratic details of skin tone, configuration of genitalia and body-hair pattern.”  

The works in this exhibition are Betty Parsons and Lawrence Alloway, Southfold (1963), Awakaras & Madeline Gins (1971), Paul Rosano in Jacobson Chair (1971), Paul Rosano with Guitar (1973), Annunciation (1975), Concert Chempêtre (1976), Imperial Nude: Susan Kaprov (1977), Imperial Nude: Paul Rosano (1977), Sabra Moore, My Ceres (1982), Portrait of an Actor: Sean Pratt (1994), and Eric Smith (2007).

Sylvia Sleigh was born in 1916 in North Wales, England.  She studied painting at the Brighton School of Art from 1934 to 1937, and had her first UK exhibition in 1954 at the Kensington Gallery, London. Sleigh moved to New York permanently in 1961.  She was a member of the women-only cooperative gallery Soho 20, and organized and participated in exhibitions at the Artists in Residence (A.I.R.) gallery in the 1970s. In 2004 she had a retrospective exhibition at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. A long term exhibition of Invitation to a Voyage (1979-1999) is currently on view at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York. In 1973, she participated as one of three artists on the selection committee for the exhibition, Women Choose Women, at the New York Cultural Center.