The Last Bohemians: Penny Slinger: The Feminist Surrealist Who Was Too Erotic for the Art World

September 6, 2022

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Penny Slinger is the British feminist surrealist whose work in the 1960s and 70s was groundbreaking—but then she disappeared. 

Slinger was a mover and shaker in Swinging London's art scene—though you might not have heard of her. She went to Chelsea Art School at the height of the Pop Art boom and, inspired by Max Ernst, went on to mix up self-portrait, collage, film and sculpture to create surreal and feminist images that still provoke today.

Among these were her “full frontal collages,” including ones where Slinger appears inside a wedding cake, the slice between her legs removed. Her 1977 collage masterpiece, An Exorcism, meanwhile, evoked the darkness of the English psyche, stitching together ghoulish images of the countryside, genitals, nuns and manor houses. 

In the UK, Slinger counted the photographer Lee Miller among her friends and, at one point, lived in a turret in Soho, where her boyfriend—the counterculture film-maker Peter Whitehead—kept falcons. How’s that for bohemian! 

Slinger appeared in experimental films and wrote a number of books on themes of sex, mysticism, eroticism and inner goddesses, including groundbreaking books of her collages and poetry, such as 50% The Visible Woman. But after a solo show in New York in 1982, she abandoned the art world, tired of its sexism and narrow-mindedness. She moved first to the Caribbean, then to Northern California, and finally settled in LA. 

It isn’t until recently that Slinger’s work has been rediscovered. In 2009, she was included in the Angels of Anarchy show of female surrealists in Manchester and she was the subject of a 2017 documentary by Richard Kovitch. 

Now living in Los Angeles, she talks to The Last Bohemians about her incredible life: being pals with Lee Miller, living in a turret with pet falcons, finding her way in a male-dominated art world, how tantra revitalized her life and work, performing a real-life sex scene in the only feature film directed by a woman in the 1970s, sensual and sexual liberation—and why desire doesn't diminish with age. She just hopes she lives to see her first retrospective. 

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