This will be about my views on what it takes to put a three dimensional world onto a two dimensional surface. With a lot of digressing.
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Apr 15, 2010


It's not who we choose to celebrate, but who we choose to ignore.
The work of Alice Neel wasn't widely exhibited or written about until she was of an age to be considered a senior citizen. Her communist leanings didn't mean that her paintings were blackballed, as were the movie scripts of Hollywood writers. She did, however,attract the attention of the FBI, and was interviewed in 1955. She asked the agents to pose for her, with no luck. I can imagine how interesting the painting might have been, since she liked to paint couples, preferably nude.
It wasn't about what she was, but what she wasn't.
Until the feminist movement in the 70's, the New York art world was dominated by men. It was a time of manly hard drinking action painters who swore that Abstract Expressionism would last for a thousand years.
She was a woman, a realist painter, a mother who lost her first child to diphtheria. Her second, at the age of two, was taken to his family in Cuba by her husband. She suffered a nervous breakdown, a suicide attempt, a lover who destroyed her drawings and watercolors and slashed 50 paintings. In 1938 Alice Neel moved to Spanish Harlem and worked there for the remainder of her life. Her studio was her living room, her subject matter included the streets of Harlem, but her focus and strength has always been portraits.
Dead-on and unflinching portraits, about as far from salon painting as you can get.
But still, or more likely, because of that, she was forced to depend on public assistance until the 50's, including a stint as a WPA artist until 1943.
My first encounter ( or at least the one that stands out in my mind ) with Neel's paintings, was at the Whitney Museum in 1974. I sailed from portrait to portrait thinking wow.
Then hey, I know that guy!
It was a nude, male, posed somewhat like the reclining Olympia. A strawberry blond. The title was “John Perreault.” I met him in 1966 when he was a critic for Art News. He came to the gallery (The Spectrum, at the time it was on 57th St )I was exhibiting in, and gave my show a sweet review. So who could not remember him?
When I was doing some research for this, I of course Googled him. His Neel portrait can be seen there, plus his comments. http://www.johnperreault.com/
I also just recently learned that a friend that I previously blogged about, Jan Culbertson, went with her husband to a post-show party at Neel's studio. Alice asked if they would pose for her for $3000. Jan and Doug decided not to.
When I asked Jan if she had any regrets, she replied:
“ It seemed like a lot of money at that time, and I was annoyed that my Snoopy knee socks
caught Neel's eye, rather than my character...or the lines on my face! So instead we bought an autographed catalogue from her, the one depicting her current Whitney show. (1974) Alice had a big box of catalogues which she sold for $10. each.

The image below was in my previous post, a Neel painting titled "Jackie Curtis and Rita Red"
This painting fetched $1,650,000 via Southebys last November

If you assume that Jackie Curtis is the figure on the left, you're wrong. If the genders seem obvious, think again. If you can pick out the male transvestite, you may be right.

1 comment:

  1. I love Alice Neel, and have had the privilege of seeing some of her works in person - they have always blown me away - but didn't really know anything of her history. Thanks. Very interesting post!