Ask Morgana 090: Alfred Leslie

Alfred Leslie (1927-) is not considered in any way to be an erotic artist. So why am I featuring his 1973 work In The Teepee at Leverett on this page? Well perhaps as a breath of sanity after Tom Poulton – certainly Leslie’s expressionless faces are a contrast with Poulton’s. This painting is a traditional, oil-on-canvas work, and typical of his realist style. There is nothing apparently erotic about the subject matter, which is simply two young women and a young man sitting at ease. The fact that they are naked is not in itself erotic. For me, something happens when I contemplate what Leslie does with his precise realism. I look at paintings like A Death in the Family, Torture, An Accident, and The Killing of Frank O’Hara, at how they are lit, at how the subjects are grouped, at how they stare out at the viewer or ignore her completely, and I find that their stillness – a deeper stillness than in a painting like Andrew Wyeth’s The Virgin – is like something from a dream. And because it’s a dream, it’s my dream, it’s up-close and personal, presented with no explanation whatsoever. Alfred Leslie’s paintings are so still that I become acutely aware that I have to interpret them, I’m obliged to, I can’t avoid the responsibility. In Teepee I am faced by a tableau; the two young women, possibly sisters, possibly Julie and Jane Schwer, and a young man seated between them, are warming their backs at an old-fashioned stove, or possibly sheltering from the heat of the day outside. I can’t help, as I look and look, comparing skin tone, skin texture, hair. This is a picture that is almost unique in the way it makes me long to walk into it, to walk round the seated figures, to lay a hand on each one’s shoulder, then maybe to pull up a fourth chair and become part of the still, naked tableau for another onlooker, another dreamer…



Image reproduced under ‘fair use’ provisions.

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