Alice Neel. Seeing who we are

Source Credit:  Content and images from Wall Street International Magazine by Wall Street International.  Read the original article - https://wsimag.com/art/68113-alice-neel-seeing-who-we-are

A new exhibition of portraits by Alice Neel (1900 –1984) brings twentieth-century America to life through faces old and young. Painted over a fifty-year
period, this thoughtfully selected group of paintings includes many never
previously exhibited works, illuminating the creative evolution of her oeuvre
across the decades. From babies, infants and teenagers to friends, lovers
and patrons, and from the affluent to the poor, everyone was of equal interest
and merit to Neel. By pairing portraits of youth with the elderly, we are led
to reflect on life’s most meaningful questions: when do we become who we are?
And how have we changed?

Seeing who we are includes striking examples of Neel’s ability to capture even
the youngest sitters’ inner psyche. In Puerto Rican Mother and Child #2, Neel
evokes an air of vulnerability and uncertainty with just a handful of colours
and a simple composition. The work is at once an unflinching depiction of
young motherhood and a reflection of the global diaspora of New York, Neel’s
adopted hometown. The sitter is Margarita, sister-in-law to José Santiago
Negron, a nightclub singer and guitarist who was Neel’s partner in the 1930s.

In Sheila (1937), a rare early work depicting Negron’s daughter, Neel portrays
the young child with a particularly mature expression. Was the artist foretelling
the child’s adult character in this precocious portrait? Sam and David (1962)
empathetically depicts filmmaker and photographer Sam Brody, with whom
Neel was in a relationship for many years, holding his son David–the boy’s
arresting blue eyes are echoed in the double portrait’s expressive background.
Neel also painted her own family, from charged portraits of her children as
babies and children to pictures of them in adulthood as they forged their own
careers, married, and raised families of their own. In this exhibition we meet,
for example, her son Richard as a young man and one of her granddaughters,
Olivia. These works attest to the blending of art and life and how children were
a perpetual and vital source of inspiration.

Neel’s intellectual and social milieu is shown through the portraits of people
such as the cultural philanthropist Irma Seitz, the Austrian politician Joe
Buttinger and his American wife Muriel (née Gardiner), a psychoanalyst and
psychiatrist. The Buttingers had met in Vienna, where Muriel had trained
as a doctor, and both were active in the Austrian anti-Fascist movement. Forced
to leave Europe for the United States at the outbreak of the Second World
War, they continued their activities throughout its duration and saved countless
lives. In the United States, they continued to help those in need. The affluent
Muriel was introduced to Neel in the 1960s and provided her with a lifelong
annual stipend from 1964 onwards. This ushered in a period of financial
stability and enabled Neel to concentrate on her work. It was also around this
time that she started to enjoy greater professional success.

The friendship between Muriel Gardiner and Alice Neel brings the subject
of psychology to the fore and points to a mutual affinity between the two
women. What Gardiner examined from a medical perspective–the human
psyche–Neel explored in paint. A self-proclaimed ‘collector of souls’, the
artist was uniquely able to capture the innate characteristics of her sitters,
free of artifice and irrespective of age. She was highly attuned to the human
condition and profoundly empathetic to the lives of those on the margins of society, a trait that was intensified by her own struggle for survival as a young
artist and single mother. Yet despite the hardships she endured, Neel never
relinquished her artistic vocation, remarking towards the end of her life: “You
know what it takes to be an artist? Hypersensitivity and the will of the devil.
To never give up.”

Alice Neel (b. 1900, Pennsylvania; d. 1984, New York) has recently been
honoured with a major retrospective titled Alice Neel: People Come First at
the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2021); Guggenheim Museum,
Bilbao (2021); and the de Young Museum, San Francisco (2022). Un Regard
Engagé, a monographic exhibition organised by the Centre Pompidou
highlighting the artist’s political and social engagement, will open in 2022.
The Whitney Museum of American Art celebrated Neel with her first
retrospective in 1974 and a centennial, posthumous exhibition in 2000, which
was initiated by the Philadelphia Museum of Art where it was shown in
2001. Other solo presentations include Alice Neel: Painted Truths, which was
organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston by Jeremy Lewison and Barry
Walker and travelled to the Whitechapel Gallery, London and Moderna
Museet Malmö, Sweden. In 2013, a presentation of the artist’s watercolours
and drawings, Alice Neel: Intimate Relations, was on view at Nordiska
Akvarellmuseet in Skärhamn, Sweden. In 2016, the Ateneum Art Museum,
Helsinki organised Alice Neel: Painter of Modern Life, which travelled to the
Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, and the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles,
France, before concluding at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg in 2018.
The artist’s work can be found in the collection of major international
museums. The Estate of Alice Neel has been represented by Xavier Hufkens
since 2015.

Source Credit:  Content and images from Wall Street International Magazine by Wall Street International.  Read the original article - https://wsimag.com/art/68113-alice-neel-seeing-who-we-are