Swinging 60s surrealist Penny Slinger: ‘Collectors thought I came with the art’
She made psychic dolls houses, erotic wedding cakes and full-frontal collages. But the world wasnt ready for her powerful personal visions. Is Lady Picasso about to get her dues?
Penelope Slinger has never done anything by halves. She remembers drawing her first really accomplished picture in 1952, when she was four and a half. It was of her parents completely naked. They were terribly proud but too embarrassed to show their friends. Then, when she was nine, she was expelled from her Surrey convent school for waving a sanitary towel out of a bus window. A child psychologist informed her parents that she wasnt mad, she was simply an artist, and they should do what they could to support her.
I was completely out of left field, says Slinger with a laugh. Their embarrassment about how far I would push the boundaries those seeds were planted when I was very young. I just continued on that trajectory.
Slinger enrolled at Chelsea School of Art in the late 1960s, at the height of the counterculture, vowing to become the most famous female artist who had ever lived a Lady Picasso. She went on to create some of the eras most extraordinary works: psychic dolls houses, erotic wedding cakes, quasi-medical dissections that aimed to collapse the distinction between artist and muse. The painstakingly realised full-frontal collages that would form her 1977 masterpiece, An Exorcism, mark an intensely personal journey, even if the images of country houses, roses, judges, genitals and falcons feel drawn from some collective English subconscious.
Her themes female desire, subjugation, rebirth might feel very current, but Slinger proved too much for the art world back then. Between her solo show in New York in 1982 and her inclusion in the Angels of Anarchy show of female surrealists in Manchester in 2009, she completely disappeared. When youre trying to do something new, she says, it often doesnt get accepted at the time. Probably most people werent ready for it.
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