Sylvia Sleigh’s male art

A follow-up to the last, bonus, section of my posting on Michael Heizer and Lynda Benglis, a section about Sylvia Sleigh and her gaze-reversal paintings:

Around 1970, from feminist principles, she painted a series of works reversing stereotypical artistic themes by featuring nude men in poses that were traditionally associated with women, like the reclining Venus or odalisque.

I’ve now collected images of five of these paintings in a posting on AZBlogX — not only witty, but also sexually arousing and meant to be. The images of the men are all stylized, but only a bit; they are also portraits of their subjects.

A sixth painting, from 1965, of Sleigh’s husband Lawrence Alloway (which I can show here because the man’s genitals are not actually visible, though (along with his torso) they are a central feature of the work:


The five from AZBlogX, in chronological order (after the Alloway above):

#1 Portrait of Allan Robinson (1968). Reclining on a sofa.

#2 Paul Rosano in Jacobson Chair (1971). The same Danish-modern chair as in the Alloway above. Rosano (with his wiry black hair and body hair) was one of Sleigh’s favorite models.

#3 Imperial Nude Paul Rosano (1975). Another reclining nude.

#4 At the Turkish Bath (1976). A gender-reversed version of Ingres’s The Turkish Bath (1863), which depicts a group of art critics, including Alloway (bottom right) and Rosano (top right).

#5 Portrait of an Actor: Sean Pratt (1994). Posed on a sofa, gazing directly at the viewer.

All the men have soft penises, as in most male art and photography that’s not directly intended to be pornographic. The poses are taken from classical female nudes, not from cheescake (or beefcake) images. Given the paintings that served as models for Sleigh’s works, the figures in them are all alert but passive, receptive, unmoving — while in much homoerotic male art the figures are muscular and active, or else caught in attractively vulnerable sleep.So overall the feel and tone of feminist male art is different from homoerotic male art.

But gay men can still find feminist male art arousing — it does, after all, objectify and celebrate the male body — and of course straight women can find homoerotic male art arousing.

Final note: Sleigh’s figure painting includes much more than these gender-reversed nude studies. There are fully clothed portraits of single figures, couples, and larger groups, and nude studies of women, singly and in couples and larger groups, and of women together with men, again in couples or larger groups. Most impressively, here’s Sleigh’s “A.I.R. Group Portrait, 1977-78”, a sizable oil (76 in. x 82 in.):


From left to right. Back row: Daria Dorosh, Nancy Spero, Dottie Attie, Mary Grigoriadis, Blythe Bohnen, Loreta Dunkelman, Howardena Pindell, Sylvia Sleigh, Patsy Norvel. Second row: Sari Dienes, Anne Fealy, Agnes Denes, Laurace James, Rachel Bas Cohain, Louis Kramern. Third row: Pat Lasch, Maude Boltz, Clover Vail, Kazuko. Front row: Mary Beth Edelson, Donna Byers.

On A.I.R., from Wikipedia:

A.I.R. was the first all female cooperative gallery in the United States. It was founded in 1972 with the objective of providing a professional and permanent exhibition space for women artists during a time in which the works shown at commercial galleries in New York City were almost exclusively by male artists. A.I.R. is an alternative means to exhibit women’s art. The gallery was originally located in SoHo at 97 Wooster Street, and was located on 111 Front Street in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn until 2015. In May 2015, A.I.R. Gallery moved to its current location at 155 Plymouth St, Brooklyn

… The name “AIR” arose when, in a first meeting, artist member Howardena Pindell suggested “Jane Eyre”. From that came “air” – then, “A.I.R.” This was also a reference to the “Artist in Residence” certification given by the city to allow artists to live in otherwise illegal Soho commercial spaces

One Response to “Sylvia Sleigh’s male art”

  1. [BLOG] Some Saturday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky describes the female gaze of the paintings of men done by Sylvia […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: