Topless women and ex-Hampstead and Kilburn MP Glenda Jackson in the frame to tackle sexism

Highgate artist Sue Spaull's painting of former MP Glenda Jackson on a wallpaper background of naked

Highgate artist Sue Spaull's painting of former MP Glenda Jackson on a wallpaper background of naked women - Credit: Archant

From far away, this classical oil painting of former Hampstead and Kilburn MP Glenda Jackson does not appear out of the ordinary.

But look a little closer, and the traditional-looking backdrop is in fact a startling collage of pictures of topless women.

The work is the brainchild of artist Sue Spaull, who has painted 10 professional women against a background of scantily-clad models for an exhibition this week to challenge the levels of sexism in the media.

Her subjects include many eminent and well-known faces, including Ms Jackson, and Hampstead resident and distinguished barrister Lady Kennedy.

Ms Spaull, 53, who lives in Highgate, said: “I wanted to explore how we see women, and sexualised images of women, and if that affects how we then see professional women.

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“For example, Helena Kennedy is a very skilled lawyer, but what extent do we look at her and think, she’s a woman and what does she look like?

“In some ways, the women in the sexualised images have just as little, or as much, power as the women in the portraits.”

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The life-size portraits, on sale from £2,500, will hang against a painted wallpapered backdrop of images of topless women taken from The Sun’s infamous page three, as well as other newspapers, magazines, and advertisements.

Ms Spaull wanted the works to look as they were hanging in a traditional drawing room in a stately house, historically a space dominated by men.

The deputy head of an art school in central London said: “Although feminism has made strides, imagery of women has been more sexualised than ever before.

“It’s almost like we don’t see it now because it’s there everyday – and I wanted to reflect that with the wallpaper.”

Ms Spaull has always considered herself a feminist, but was inspired to take up the cause in her art by her two teenage daughters.

“I’ve become much more aware of the impact of these sexualised images on them,” said Ms Spaull, who is in favour of banning The Sun’s page three. “They are having a particular effect on young women, so it’s important that we focus on these women for what they achieve as well as for what they look like.”

The exhibition, titled What Are You Looking At?, opened on Tuesday and will run until Monday, opening from 11am until 6pm everyday at The Strand Gallery in central London.

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