Although Flis Mitchell loves Sylvia Sleigh’s work, she finds the Tate Liverpool retrospective insufficient to capture the artist’s talent
Tan lines. Pubic hair. Naked men stretching out in luxuriant poses far more frequently associated with female muses. This is art, but not quite as many of us know it.
Sylvia Sleigh painted what she saw and what she was interested in. She didn’t create paragons of beauty: portraits of women with impossibly flawless skin and whatever figure was in vogue. In fact, she didn’t even stick to painting women, which, considering that over three quarters of nudes in many galleries are female, is a statement all of its own. Her favourite muse, Paul Rosano, occupies a lot of her paintings, under a gaze that is so often been assumed to be solely male.
Sleigh’s paintings are determined to show each sitter, male or female, as unique individuals with dignity and character, painted with intimacy and sensual appreciation. The works show people with tan lines, pubic hair and flaws, celebrating the physicality of humans and emphasising the inherent beauty of each person. The male nudes are glorious; in ‘Paul Rosano Reclining’ (1974), her favourite model lies on a glossy bedspread on a grey tiled floor, gazing out of the picture, unquestionably comfortable and satisfied to be appreciated. Sleigh paints with sexual desire but her appreciation leaves the sitters sanctified rather than objectified.
Picture by Sylvia Sleigh
Felicity Rainnie Reclining 1972
Oil on canvas
1073 x 1524 mm
© Estate of Sylvia Sleigh