Sylvia Sleigh

Moving from England in the early 1960s, Sylvia Sleigh arrived in New York at a time when new art movements were on the rise. Despite these currents, Sleigh continued to produce many figurative works over the next four decades.  Sleigh’s output includes a number of intimate portraits of close friends and contemporaries.  I-20 is pleased to present 12 of these small-scale portraits, many being exhibited for the first time in several decades.

The 1960’s and 70’s were a particularly productive time for Sleigh. She was engaged in the feminist art movement and was involved with women-only collectives, including SoHo 20 and the Artist in Residence (A.I.R.) Gallery.  Sleigh and her husband, Lawrence Alloway (1926-1990), were very involved with many friends in New York, including critics, art dealers, artists, and musicians. From this group Sleigh pulls many subjects, who include Lawrence Alloway, Betty Parsons, Ira Joel Haber, John Perrault, and the artist herself, among others.  Painted from observation, these portraits not only capture a likeness, but also the idiosyncrasies of the painted personas. This is like the way camera footage can capture real time and more often now lingers on people’s passive facial expressions. But in Sleigh’s paintings a specific place in time is pinpointed by Afros, bell-bottoms, floral prints, or an Arne Jacobson Egg Chair.

Sylvia Sleigh was born in 1916 in North Wales in the United Kingdom.  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.  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. 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.

Most recently, Sleigh’s work has been included in Ingres and the Moderns, Musée national des Beaux-Arts, Quebec (traveling to Musée Ingres, Montauban), and Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (traveled to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, New York, and the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia).