image of a man with oblong head, wearing a clear helmet, scrunched textured face, shirtless, with American flag draped around his shoulders; flesh-colored cartoon-like dog in LLQ; bright blue sky with violet clouds in background

%C2%A9 May Stevens %2F Courtesy Ryan Lee Gallery

Top Man, 1975

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Top Man is a powerful example from May Stevens’ Big Daddy series featuring a grotesque caricature of her father, Ralph Stanley Stevens. The pasty, doughy, bald male figure is seated with his arms crossed, an American flag draped over his shoulders. Seated on Big Daddy’s lap is his pet bulldog, its folds of pale skin matching the wrinkled man’s face, its tongue clearly a stand-in for the aged man’s penis. The character of Big Daddy, created at the height of the Vietnam War, is intended to be an embodiment of ignorance, bigotry, racism, and sexism in the United States at the time. Writing in 1975, art critic Lucy Lippard remarked that Big Daddy “is a graphic representation of the authority figure which has a special meaning for a woman in a male dominated society. Stevens brings to the Big Daddy paintings a controlled but powerful rage against imperialism on the foreign and the domestic fronts.”

Top Man and the Big Daddy series are examples of political pop art from the 1960s and ’70s that addressed issues surrounding the Vietnam War, as well as the fight for equality in the Civil Rights Movement and first wave American Feminism. Stevens’ painting compliments a number of works in Mia’s collection that reference the social and political turmoil of the Vietnam era. This includes work by Robert Rauschenberg, Peter Saul, James Ormsbee Chapin, as well as photographers who documented the war violence and anti-war protests, such as Philip Jones Griffiths and Marc Riboud. Other historical works in the collection that are in dialogue with Steven’s condemning portrait of authority figures include the powerful Study for Portrait VI (1953) by Francis Bacon, portraying Pope Innocent X.

image of a man with oblong head, wearing a clear helmet, scrunched textured face, shirtless, with American flag draped around his shoulders; flesh-colored cartoon-like dog in LLQ; bright blue sky with violet clouds in background

© May Stevens / Courtesy Ryan Lee Gallery

Because of © restrictions, we can only show you a small image of this artwork.