Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alice Neel

I just watched an amazing documentary about Alice Neel made by her grandson, Andrew Neel. Its power comes from both her work and her personality and the effect of her single-minded pursuit of her painting on the lives of her children. There is an honesty and a poignancy that I think comes from its having been made by a family member.

I first knew of Alice Neel from Eleanor Munro's Originals: American Women Artists which was an important book to me as I slowly began to first contemplate and then actually define myself as an artist. She had a difficult road toward recognition and acceptance as a woman painter of realistic portraits in the age of abstraction. Here are few things Alice Neel said in the book:

I had what it takes to make a good artist: sensitivity and tremendous willpower. Hypersensitivity—because in order to be a good artist you have to react intensely. And then you must have the will. What is it really—character, belief? The power to stick to what you believe? I had a strong, adamant self.

Everything shows. The face is the center of the senses. Life, history, the environment shows. Everything.

I'll tell you what you can see. Their inheritance, their class, their profession. Their feelings, their intellect. All that's happened to them. You see everything in their faces. I like to think, too, that I have reflected the Spirit of the Age. I have painted faces of the '50s, the 60s, and the '70s. Each of those decades is so completely different.

I later found a fascinating book by Gerald L. and Margaret L. Belcher called Collecting Souls, Gathering Dust: The Struggles of Two American Artists Alice Neel and Rhoda Medary at a used bookstore. The two questions I find myself asking about artists is "What got them started?" and "What kept them going?" Alice and Rhoda met at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. While both had lives of personal struggle, in their art Alice kept going and became the collector of souls with her portraits and Rhoda stopped and gathered dust.

I have not yet read the new biography of Alice Neel, Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty by Phoebe Hoban but look forward to doing so.

More information about the Alice Neel Film. It is available on DVD and Netflix.

The website of the Alice Neel Estate with lots of paintings to view.

1 comment:

Kay H. said...

You've inspired me to learn more about Alice Neel -- I have just put a hold on a book of her paintings and the Collecting Souls book. Sounds like a very interesting lady! Thank you. I really enjoy getting your posts!

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