Artist: Ellen Lesperance
Exhibition title: We Were Singing
Venue: Adams and Ollman, Portland, US
Date: September 3 – October 10, 2015
Photography: images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Adams and Ollman, Portland
July 16, 2015, Portland, OR: Adams and Ollman is pleased to announce a solo exhibition with Ellen Lesperance on view September 3 through October 10, 2015. We Were Singing, Lesperance’s second solo exhibition at the gallery, will include new paintings on paper, sculptural textiles, graphite drawings and photographs.
Ellen Lesperance, best known for her detailed paintings and textiles that pay tribute to direct action campaigns and feminist activism, debuts a new body of work based on the noted feminist painter Sylvia Sleigh and her radical and intimate paintings of nude males. After years of investigating and paying homage to women activists–Angela Davis, Rachel Corrie, Pippa Bacca, and others whose names are unknown–Lesperance turns her gaze inward to mine her life and experiences as they intersect with Sleigh and the history of art and feminism.
Sylvia Sleigh (1910-2010) was a figure in the feminist art movement of the 1970s who is best known for turning portraiture and art history on its head as she reversed traditional sex roles in her paintings, casting her husband and their friends and associates as male nudes that recalled the female subjects often found in paintings by Titian or Ingres. However, Sleigh not only reversed the roles, but she softened the gaze, making humanistic portraits instead of objectifying her subjects.
Sleigh’s work unfolds across a domestic tableaux. The viewer is welcomed into Sleigh’s private life where her rugs, furniture, clothes, art, and relationships, all painted in exquisite detail, are on full display. Intimacy pervades the work. In her words, “I have no studio. I paint in the living room, the kitchen, the garden, anywhere that the light, space, furniture, give me an idea or, simply, where it is convenient for someone to stand, sit, or recline.”
A central work in We Were Singing is Prop for a Turkish Bath, an assemblage with an elaborate knit component. In this piece, and as Lesperance has often done in previous works, the artist recreates an object from an image. Here she recreates the textile that served as the backdrop in Sleigh’s iconic painting The Turkish Bath that features Lawrence Alloway, Sleigh’s husband, posed alongside their colleagues and friends. Using this sculpture as backdrop for a series of Polaroid photographs, Lesperance casts her husband in the role of Alloway, whom Sleigh painted over forty times. In the resulting photographs, Lesperance captures moments where the viewer is privy to intimate exchanges between husband and wife that toggle between reality and role play.
Also included in the exhibition are gouache on paper paintings that reference Sleigh’s A.I.R. Group Portrait from 1977 and a series of graphite drawings that are inspired by texts from Sleigh’s archive. In these small, text-based works, Lesperance attempts to merge her hand-writing with that of Sleigh’s, a metaphor for these two women artists from different generations grappling with a very similar set of issues.
Ellen Lesperance, Joseph McVetty Reclining (Pink Quilt), 2015
Ellen Lesperance, At the Turkish Bath (Joe as John Perreault), 2015
Ellen Lesperance, Joseph McVetty With Easter Lily, 2014
Ellen Lesperance, Still Life (Pale Pink Rose), 2015
Ellen Lesperance, Triple Head, 2015
Ellen Lesperance, Double Image, 2015
Ellen Lesperance, Joseph McVetty With Easter Lily (Version II), 2014
Ellen Lesperance, Still Life With Dahlias, Peonies, Pansies and Tulips, 2015
Ellen Lesperance, Imperial Nude, 2015
Ellen Lesperance, Joseph McVetty With Water Lily (Flowers Focus), 2015
Ellen Lesperance, Joseph McVetty With Water Lily (Genitals Focus), 2015
Ellen Lesperance, For Sylvia, 2015
Ellen Lesperance, Members of the A.I.R. Gallery Cooperative Meet on a Saturday Morning in 1977 Soho to Redress History, 2015
Ellen Lesperance, Prop For a Turkish Bath, 2015
Ellen Lesperance, We Were Singing, 2015
Ellen Lesperance, We Shall Be, 2015
Ellen Lesperance, We Will Sing, 2015
Ellen Lesperance, Annunciation, 2014
Ellen Lesperance, Study For Venus, 2014