Student, School Art, Brighton, Sussex, England, 1936. Diploma, University London Extra-Mural Department, 1947.
After studying at the Brighton School of Art, she had her first solo exhibition in 1953 at the Kensington Art Gallery. The following year, Alloway became a curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Around 1970, from feminist principles, she painted a series of works reversing stereotypical artistic themes by featuring nude men in poses that were traditionally associated with women.
Philip Golub Reclining (1971) similarly appropriates the pose of the Rokeby Venus by Diego Velázquez. This work also presents a reversal of the male-artist/female-muse pattern typical of the Western canon and is reflective of research into the position of women throughout the history of art as model, mistress, and muse, but rarely as artist−genius. While somewhat idealized, Sleigh's figures remain highly individualized.
Other works equalize the roles of men and women, such as Concert Champetre (1976), in which all the figures are nude, unlike its similarly composed namesake by Titian (earlier credited to Giorgione), in which only the women are unclothed. As Sleigh explained, "I feel that my paintings stress the equality of men and women (women and men). To me, women were often portrayed as sex objects in humiliating poses.
I wanted to give my perspective. She painted group portraits of both organizations. Between 1976 and 2007, Sleigh painted a series of 36-inch portraits which feature women artists and writers, including Helène Aylon, Catharine R. Stimpson, Howardena Pindell, Selina Trieff, and Vernita Nemec.
In a 2007 interview with Brian Sherwin, Sleigh was asked if gender equality issues in the mainstream art world, and the world in general, had changed for the better. She answered, "I do think things have improved for women in general there are many more women in government, in law and corporate jobs, but it's very difficult in the art world for women to find a gallery." According to Sleigh, there is still more that needs to be done in order for men and women to be treated as equals in the art world. During the last two decades of her life, Sleigh purchased or negotiated trades of over 100 works of art by other women and exhibited her growing collection at SOHO 20 Gallery in 1999.
These included paintings, sculptures, and prints by Cecile Abish, Dotty Attie, Helène Aylon, Blythe Bohnen, Louise Bourgeois, Ann Chernow, Rosalyn Drexler, Martha Edelheit, Audrey Flack, Shirley Gorelick, Nancy Grossman, Pegeen Guggenheim, Nancy Holt, Lila Katzen, Diana Kurz, Marion Lerner-Levine, Vernita Nemec, Betty Parsons, Ce Roser, Susan Sills, Michelle Stuart, Selina Trieff, Audrey Ushenko, and many others. In 2011, the Sylvia Sleigh Collection was donated to the Rowan University Art Gallery and forms the core of its permanent collection.
Panelist Creative Artists Public Service Program, New York City, 1976. Member Women's Caucus for Art, College Art Association (Lifetime Achievement in Art award, 2007).
Married Lawrence Alloway, June 28, 1954.