Sunday, May 1, 2011

Artist of the Week: Alice Neel

I haven't exactly been staying on top of my intention to post a weekly blog entry about an interesting artist. But today's choice is someone I've been meaning to cover for quite some time. Realist painter Alice Neel's (1900-1984) work is very compelling to me, even though I don't find aspects of it necessarily beautiful. She painted very honest, often strange portraits, working for most of her life without recognition. During the years while she persisted with her painting, portraiture was very unpopular in the art world, with abstract expressionism and pop art, along with photographs, being the preferred genres of the times. Like Eric Fischl, Neel continued with her chosen subject matter despite the public's apparent lack of interest, and is now (posthumously) experiencing the success that eluded her. Neel's work conveys her fascination with people in all of their quirks and flaws. She adeptly captured the psychological and physical dimensions of her subjects, who range widely in age, class, and social status.

 {Painter Alice Neel}

        By way of a brief bio, Neel was born in Pennsylvania and studied at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, eventually moving to New York and becoming a member of the Works Progress Administration. She never embraced artistic trends, and was very socially conscious, painting portraits of political activists involved in the empowerment movements for blacks and women. She also became very involved in the art world in New York, and painted portraits of other prominent artists. Neel sacrificed a great deal, enduring poverty and limited recognition due to her commitment to her art, to feminism, and for going against the artistic and social trends of her times.

{Hartley, 1952. A portrait of Neel's son.}

{Jackie Curtis and Ritta Redd, 1970; oil on canvas. The Cleveland Museum of Art purchased this painting for 1.65 million in 2009, a record high for the artist, marking the resurgence of current interest in her work. In this case, part of the appeal is that Jackie Curtis, the legendary drag queen, and his partner Ritta Red, were regulars at Andy Warhol's Factory, and the painting--at 60" x 42"--is unusually large for Neel.}

{Geoffrey Hendricks and Brian, 1978}

{Pregnant Julie and Algis, 1967.}

As I mentioned earlier, Neel painted many of the important artists of her day. Here are some of them:

{Robert Smithson, 1962}

{Neel met poet Frank O'Hara in 1960 and asked him to sit for her. The two artists have much in common in that they pushed the limits of the creative thought of their times, refusing to embrace the trends dominating the New York art scene. Neither of them found the same level of recognition as their peers, and both have been increasingly celebrated posthumously. Like many of Neel's portraits, this one is honest without being critical.}

{Andy Warhol, 1970. Neel manages to capture so much in so few lines--it's astounding.}

{Red Grooms and Mimi Gross, 1967}

{Joseph Papp, 1964}

As shown in some of the images above, Neel often painted double portraits:

{De Vegh Twins, 1975}

{Linda Nochlin and Daisy, 1973}

{David Bourdon and Gregory Battcock, 1970}

She also did a series of nudes that, while somewhat explicit, emphasized the woman's perspective:

{Ethel Ashton, 1930}

 {Pregnant Woman, 1971}

 {Pregnant Maria, 1964}
{Ruth Nude,  1964}

 {Kitty Pearson, 1973}

Many portrait painters cite Neel as an important influence on their work, including artists who have achieved far more success while living than she did. These artists include Eric Fischl, Elizabeth Peyton, and Marlene Dumas, to name a few. Here's a link to an excellent article about Neel in The New York Times that discusses Neel's work and her influence on these artists.

Alice Neel's grandson, Andrew Neel, made a documentary about her work, entitled Alice Neel. Read more here.

The Alice Neel website features much of her work and more biographical information about the artist.

All images via Google the Alice Neel website.

No comments:

Post a Comment