Lesbian art comes out of the closet

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POSTERS on the London Underground advertising an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery show two women, arms entwined. It is a self-portrait called Erect by Sadie Lee, aged 25, of her and her lesbian lover, although Ms Lee admits: 'The National Portrait Gallery may not realise this. They probably think it is just two friends.'

Lesbian art is coming out of the closet. All last week at the WORX Gallery, near King's Cross Station in London, Ms Lee's two oil portraits of strong, confident and assertive women in jeans and T-shirts, with greased- back hair and the glowering good looks of a young Marlon Brando, were among 150 works by 54 artists in what is claimed to be the world's largest exhibition by lesbian artists.

It was staged by the Lesbian Artists Network. The feeling that lesbian art is not a meaningful genre - any more than one could lump all 20th-century art by male homosexuals under one banner - is brought into question by the exhibition's distinctive style and subject matter. This ranges from a Mona Lisa in cropped hair, shirt and tie, to less self-mocking images which aim to rebut lesbian stereotypes.

Emily English, a 29-year-old London painter, has produced striking ink-on-paper drawings of dream sequences showing the naked dreamer surrounded by five floating, celestial naked women. In one picture they are on a voyage in a penis-shaped boat, in another they are voyaging in a vagina itself.

She said: 'I've always been concerned with using the unconscious mind, the fantasy world. And I've always wondered as a lesbian whether I could conjure up fantasy images that are lesbian-based. I allowed my imagination to run wild. Male painters throughout history have concentrated on men's sexual organs. I thought it was about time we had images of women's sexual organs produced by women.'

Sadie Lee adds: 'There have been lesbian art shows before but only lesbians knew about them. Now at last we have an exhibition in a large gallery.

(Photograph omitted)