Monday, 15 April 2013

Sylvia's Revolution

My first job in London was patrolling the rooms of the National Portrait Gallery. I remember marvelling at an austere group painting of 1960's literary critics by an artist I forgot, and being unable to decide whether I liked it.

Last week I stumbled upon a book about the Welsh painter Sylvia Sleigh. The cover was the very image I had looked at years before, but the inside was very different.

Annunciation, 1975

Paul Rosano reclining, 1974

Chelsea Garden, 1967
The Turkish Bath, 1973 - nod to Ingres' Turkish Bath of 1862

Northwestern Students, 1977 

Arakawa & Madeline Gins, 1971

Imperial Nude (1975)

There were still no smiles, but these works struck me with their quiet exuberance of colours and the frank portrayal of male nudity. Men are objects of desire - shown in poses most would expect women to take - but they are not objectified.

I like the stillness of that revolution. If only these had hung in the National Portrait Gallery, I would have remembered Sylvia's name much earlier. 

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