Penny Slinger is a British/American artist, a professional photographer and a very skillful photomontagist, known for her role in feminist Surrealist movement during the 60s and 70s. Using the tools provided by the movement, Slinger manages to enter the female psyche, presenting herself as both subject and object in a group of collages and montages.
Born as Penelope Slinger in London in 1947, she took a pre-diploma at the Farnham School of Art and a degree in Art and Design at Chelsea College, in 1969. Slinger graduated by formulating her thesis on Max Ernst, and in this period she realized that her artistic identity was placed in Surrealism.
Penny Slinger started her career when lots of liberations were under way, including the nascent women’s movement. She made her art debut while she was a student, playing with varieties of female experience by altering her own appearance with mirrors, masks and makeup. She exhibited her 3D works in Young & Fantastic at the ICA on leaving college, aged twenty-one. Slinger was one of the few celebrated women artists in the milieu of the Swinging London – a catch-all term applied to the fashion and cultural scene that flourished in London in the 1960s, consisted largely of music, discotheques, and mod fashion.
An exhibition held in London in 1977 showed Slinger’s work explicit in depiction of ‘feminine power’ and its anarchic approach to life. It challenged and provoked many of her peers as well as the critics. The artist left Britain and moved to the United States in 1978, but then went to the Caribbean in 1980 and stayed until 1994. At that point, Slinger came back to the US, where she stayed until present time.
The series of collages (1970-1977) featured in An Exorcism book evolved over a period of more than seven years. In her original conception of the Exorcism project, Penny Slinger also designed an extended version of the book accompanied by texts she wrote, as well as an elaborate film script. The film remained unrealized and the photo novella deluxe edition of the book unpublished.
This series focuses on the ultimate romance – the death and rebirth of Self. All the action took place in a huge rambling mansion which was in a state of semi-decay. In those conditions the real became the surreal, the dream became the nightmare, and the nightmare became the reality. The lines between the world of dream and reality became undefined, as the subconscious opened to the light of conscious analysis. The ancient mansion seemed to be the ideal location for a film-project probing the deep metaphysics of the unconscious, with its empty rooms used as a symbol of the artist herself. Over the next weeks the project evolved into a psychodrama with the artist as participant.
Penny’s fears, joys, desires, hates and loves are revealed in the 21 chapters that make up the unusual An Exorcism book. Most of the 98 illustrations featured in this book has a curious Deja-vu quality, haunting and compelling. Introduction of colors in some of the images, otherwise mostly black-and-white, is startling, skillfully executed, with much restraint. Most of the images are very erotic, but at the same time they have an all-consuming sadness. An Exorcism is an example of a great visual story-telling, that lingers in the memory long after.
Transforming Surrealism – 50% The Visible Woman Series
Penny Slinger has always pointed to European Surrealism as a source of inspiration and influence. As a young artist, her friend Sir Roland Penrose introduced Penny to Max Ernst, German artist considered as one of the pioneers of the surrealistic movement and Dadaism. Inspired by his art, Slinger made a film homage to Ernst’s graphic novel Une Semaine de Bonté (translated as A Week of Kindness), and began merging her own photographic collages with poetic writing. In 1969, she produced a book of self-described feminist surrealism – 50 % The Visible Woman. Her intention was to bring surrealism closer, and to make a statement from a woman’s point of view.
As a personification of everyone’s introspection, 50% The Visible Woman blends visual and intellectual worlds of the artist, where each image and its poem represents a psycho-mythic confrontation, usually about the nature of how a woman is seen and how she sees herself. This book became a crucial milestone for British feminism, and it served as a source of major inspiration for many younger women artists who began working in the 1970s, who were looking for a radical leading voice of a generation.
The art and the life of Penny Slinger are inseparably interwoven – her oeuvre of romantic-novel neurosis and a mystical erotic fantasy symbolize a feminine triumph and struggle in the world of art. Surrealism allowed Slinger to reach into the subconscious and emerge with archetypal symbols. She has interlaced her own mode of Surrealism together with a radical approach to spiritual energy forming a bridge from the subconscious to the superconscious in her symbol-heavy works. Her collages, sculptures and photographs represent an unique combination of the erotic and the mystical. Dealing with topics of views on women and their self-perception, she merges Surrealist symbols with references to ancient Egyptian imagery and the occult.
Penny Slinger is currently based in the Santa Cruz Mountains, near San Francisco.