Art Attack! Spotlight: Sadie Lee Demands That You Look

Art Attack Month:

0. 1/28/2012 – Art Attack Call for Submissions, by Riese
1. 2/1/2012 – Art Attack Gallery: 100 Queer Woman Artists In Your Face, by The Team
2. 2/3/2012 – Judy Chicago, by Lindsay
3. 2/7/2012 – Gran Fury, by Rachel
4. 2/7/2012 – Diane Arbus, by MJ
5. 2/8/2012 – Laurel Nakadate, by Lemon
6. 2/9/2012 – 10 Websites For Looking At Pictures All Dayby Riese
7. 2/10/2012 – LTTRby Jessica G.
8. 2/13/2012 – Hide/Seek, by Danielle
9. 2/15/2012 – Spotlight: Simone Meltesen, by Laneia
10. 2/15/2012 – Ivana, by Crystal
11. 2/15/2012 – Gluck, by Jennifer Thompson
12. 2/16/2012 – Jean-Michel Basquiat, by Gabrielle
13. 2/20/2012 – Yoko Ono, by Carmen
14. 2/20/2012 – Zanele Muholi, by Jamie
15. 2/20/2012 – The Malaya Project, by Whitney
16. 2/21/2012 – Feminist Fan Tees, by Ani Iti
17. 2/22/2012 – 12 Great Movies About Art, by Riese
18. 2/22/2012 – Kara Walker, by Liz
19. 2/22/2012 – Dese’Rae L. Stage, by Laneia
20. 2/22/2012 – Maya Deren, by Celia David
21. 2/22/2012 – Spotlight: Bex Freund, by Rachel
22. 2/24/2012 – All the Cunning Stunts, by Krista Burton
23. 2/26/2012 – An Introductory Guide to Comics for Ladygays, by Ash
24. 2/27/2012 – Jenny Holzer, by Kolleen
25. 2/27/2012 – Tamara de Lempicka by Amanda Catharine
26. 2/27/2012 – 10 Contemporary Lesbian Photographers You Should Know About, by Lemon/Carrie/Riese
27. 2/27/2012 – Read a F*cking Book: ‘The Last Nude,’ by Amanda Catharine
28. 2/27/2012 – Spotlight: Alice Hyde, by Laneia
29. 2/28/2012 – Spotlight: Mars Hobrecker, by Laneia
30. 2/28/2012 – Spotlight: Michelle Muldrow, by Laneia
31. 2/28/2012 – Spotlight: Laura Doughtie, by Rachel
32. 2/28/2012 – Spotlight: Sadie Lee, by Mira


“I just make them (paintings) because I can’t not make them. I sort of purge myself of them.”
– Sadie Lee in a video interview for homotopia

When I first saw Sadie Lee’s work I was 14 and my parents had no idea we were about to stumble into a room filled with lesbian art, nor did they think I would memorize every painting that was shown.

Venus Envy | Pinky

This rather personal introduction poses a question that’s relevant to the perception of queer art in general because, instead of “lesbian art,” I probably should have said “art authored by a lesbian” or, having in mind the reach of Lee’s work, omitted the word lesbian. However, had I done so, the sentence “When I first saw Sadie Lee’s work I was 14 and my parents had no idea we’re about to stumble into a room filled with art” would have taken an entirely different meaning. While I leave it to you (or to another article) to wonder whether this lesbian art vs. lesbian artist dichotomy exists and why, I gladly take it upon myself to introduce you to Sadie Lee’s work.

Although, at that time I had no idea who Sadie Lee was and how she identified, I still understood those paintings were different. They were eerie but in a way that felt familiar.

Flesh-Coloured Tights | Raging Bull

Later on, while I was still finding my way through the pillars of modern art and was very much unaware of both its heteronormativity and my own queerness, I came across a painting of hers whose title was so quietly subverting Picasso’s Femme à la Chemise, I was instantly hooked and the images I’d seen a few years earlier came right back to me.

This is the image, and it’s called La Butch en Chemise. Picasso is on the right.

They’re demanding, her paintings, so they stay. As she puts it – you cannot just look at them. I know now that the title of the works I’d seen as a young teenager was in fact “Don’t Look.”

Women, nude women and even women in lesbian encounters, are traditionally (note how that word automatically implies a male painter) painted in a manner that makes it easy for the viewer to act as a voyeur. While inviting attention, they’re often deprived of their own sexuality (and reality) and turned into a form that is ideal for the spectator. The female spectator is, in that methodology, nonexistent. In contrast, Sadie Lee’s women demand direct eye contact. They are aware of their own sexuality and are observing the one who watches them. Although often highly exposed in their challenging of stereotypes and expected gender roles, her subjects remain the ones in control, and among all the layers of meaning they offer, I appreciate that one the most.

Erect Sadie Lee with her partner

To summarize this short appreciation I’ll leave you with titles of some of Sadie Lee’s series: Tomboys and Crossdressers, Inappropriate Women, Ladies of the Burlesque, And then He was a She, and ask you to notice how well she paints old(er) age.

Standing I | Standing II

Sadie Lee’s website is a good start if you wish to learn more about her and so is this video in which she talks about her art and other contemporary lesbian artists while painting.

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mira has written 1 article for us.


  1. my inner streak of french grammar/ art historyness is coming out:

    It’s Picasso’s “Femme à la chemise,” it would never be “le femme” (it’s la femme) and “chemise” not “chemisse”. And the Sadie Lee’s real title is “La Butch en Chemise” which is important because of the gendered nature of the le/la difference; “le butch” would say something different about the butch gender depicted.

  2. Thanks for this, Mira. It was really interesting and her work looks very compelling/engaging (also I totally geeked out when I saw the picture from “Female Masculinity” here and I’m pleased to know the painter behind it)

  3. I love these! So much that I went and deleted my longwinded comment because this time less is more…

  4. Hi Mira. I just found your article and wanted to thank you for showing such an interest in my work. Making paintings is such a solitary thing to do it’s really quite moving to know that something you made that’s so private becomes something that matters to someone out there. I just wanted to let you know that my website(s) are pretty defunct and need to be rebuilt, but I have lots of images on a facebook page. If you click ‘Like’ on the top of the page you’ll get updates about new work etc. Here’s a link to the page!/sadieleeart
    Thanks and best wishes, Sadie Lee

  5. Oh, wow, this feels as if a superhero has spoken to me, directly. It really does matter a lot, primarily the art, but also this comment. Thank you (again).

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