An icon of the early feminist art movement, this 1968 painting was the first in May Stevens’s Big Daddy series. Two years later, she created an enlarged, but very similar version that is now in the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s collection. She kept the original in her studio for nearly 50 years, where it stood as reminder of the complex artistic and cultural moment of 1968 in the United States.
Paper dolls are associated, largely, with leisure and the lives of young girls. Stevens’s painting revamps the innocuous play object to create biting political satire. The nude man at the center of the painting—whom Stevens identified with both her father and President Theodore Roosevelt—is flanked by four outfits: executioner, soldier, police officer, and butcher. Through these iconic roles, the artist comments not only on male domination in American society at that time period, but also on the Vietnam War and the idea that masculine ideals both led the country to the war and prolonged it. To achieve her effect, Stevens uses the Pop Art style of appropriating the flat forms and bright colors of billboard advertising.
Throughout her career, Stevens has celebrated the lives of women artists in individual and group portraits, which she considers “alternative” art histories. She also helped found the magazine Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, published from 1977 to 1992.
From the 2019 exhibition The Expanding Universe of Postwar Art, curated by John R. Stomberg Ph.D, Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director
Studio Art 31.01/72.01, Painting II/III, Colleen Randall, Spring 2023
Entrance Gallery, Luise and Morton Kaish Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 26-April 7, 2019.
The Expanding Universe of Postwar Art, Northeast Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, April 10-December 1, 2019.
John R. Stomberg, The Hood Now: Art and Inquiry at Dartmouth, Hanover, New Hampshire: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 2019, p. 179, ill. plate no. 110.
Ryan Lee Gallery, New York, New York; sold to present collection, 2017.
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