Penny SLINGER (b. 1947) is a British-born American artist whose revolutionary and provocative practice spans photography, film and sculpture. She has been working in the fields of visual art, poetry and writing for over four decades, and continues to work today in Los Angeles, California.
Graduating from the Chelsea College of Art, London, in 1969, she emerged into a maelstrom of protest, change, and sexual freedom. Slinger quickly began exploring and investigating the notion of the feminine subconscious and psyche, using her own body to examine the relationships between sexuality, mysticism and feminism.
Slinger describes her practice as a ‘map of the journey of the self’: photographing her nude body in provocative poses, she superimposes and collages images of herself with ready-made photographic material, producing surreal images in which the presence of the naked artist becomes phantasmal and haunting. In The Exorcism (1975) this is explicitly visualised through a ‘psychodrama’ in which she acted out various scenes of ‘female psychosis’ against the architecture of the house she visits (‘The House’ - a derelict stately home in the Northamptonshire countryside).
Arguably Slinger’s most well-known work is the photographic series Bride’s Cake (1973). Dressed in costume as a wedding cake, Slinger’s body is steadily unveiled in each photograph with the ‘cutting of the cake’ by the accompanying groom. In the final photographs of the series, Slinger is shown entirely exposed with the groom thrusting a phallic instrument toward her. Accompanied by the title Happiness is a Warm… (referencing the Beatles’ 1968 track Happiness is a Warm Gun) the result is a set of a works that are at once sexually explicit, politically charged and humorous. From the series Slinger produced a facsimile of the traditional wedding album entitled Bride’s Book. Here, she published collages of the original series in which her genitalia were replaced with various other images; a pair of lips, a rosebud, an eye and a set of lilies.
Motifs from Slinger’s career as a visual artist are carried over into her work as a writer, and she has been the author and illustrator of numerous publications. Probing the boundaries between the real and the fantastical, she published her best-selling text, Sexual Secrets, The Alchemy of Ecstasy in 1979. Bringing together material on sexual mysticism, as expressed in Eastern cultures to a Western audience, she contributed over 600 drawings to supplement the text creating a unique artist’s book.
Slinger’s work has been the subject of numerous solo shows internationally. More recent important group exhibitions include Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings, Tate St Ives, Cornwall, UK; The House of Fame, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, UK (2018); History Is Now: 7 Artists Take on Britain, Hayward Gallery, London, UK; the major European touring exhibition Feminist Avant-garde of the 1970s from the Sammlung Verbund Collection (2015); and Angels of Anarchy at Manchester Art Museum, Manchester, UK (2009).