Alice Neel: Hot Off the Griddle

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Alice Neel: Hot Off the Griddle

Alice Neel: Hot Off the Griddle

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Her life wasn’t easy, and she was never well off, but she knew what she wanted, having discovered in herself the qualities needed to be a good artist: ‘hypersensitivity and the will of the devil. She paints the poor communities of her adopted home with tender sadness and absolutely heaps of empathy. It finishes with a video montage that showcases Neel’s exuberance as she paints her amused subjects, flashes cheeky grins, and plants kisses on friends.

A 1926 portrait of Neel’s first (indeed only) husband, the Cuban artist Carlos Enríquez, who all but kidnapped their child, has overtones of El Greco. We abide by the Editors’ Code of Practice and are committed to upholding the highest standards of journalism. View image in fullscreen Support the Union, 1937 by Alice Neel, ‘a lifelong feminist, humanitarian, activist and braveheart’. After a period of mental illness, Neel recovered and spent time in bohemian Greenwich Village, depicting the Village eccentric Joe Gould (a painting with some five penises) and making tender watercolours of herself with her lover John Rothschild – one with her peeing in the loo, him in the sink. Her method, Neel said, was to converse with her sitters until they unconsciously assumed their most characteristic pose, thereby revealing “what the world had done to them and their retaliation”.Roosevelt in 1934), a prog ram that employed artists to create works for public buildings and parks during the Great Depression . It is a go-to place for museum lovers whether they want to read up on an exhibition they are about to visit; read more about an exhibition being held far afield or revisit an old favourite show. The following decade Neel was investigated by the FBI, having been identified as a “romantic Bohemian type Communist”.

It starts in Havana, where Neel moved with her first husband in 1926 – at a time when women still weren’t really meant to paint – with a couple of hazy, sludgy portraits. Always, you feel a communion between artist and sitter, as Neel seeks to paint “what the world has done to them and their retaliation”.Part of what’s being represented is the trust itself, the willingness to expose vulnerability, on which the painting’s existence depends.

There have been multiple major exhibitions on the artist’s work over the last few years, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2021 and last year at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Guggenheim in Bilbao and the de Young Museum in San Francisco. She painted everyone: people of colour, the elderly, the poor, and gay and transgender people, and persevered through a time when figuration was renounced,” artist Amy Sherald said.Up to this point, Neel had mainly depicted men, but at some point during the 1930s, her focus switched to female nudes. But it’s her move to New York in 1931 after a messy divorce and a nervous breakdown that gave the world the Alice Neel we know. You can see this in the bandages of a Harlem TB patient with a collapsed lung, but also in the stitches and corset holding together Andy Warhol’s body, post-Valerie Solana’s shooting. The exhibition displays these paintings incuding the powerful ‘Nazis Murder Jews’ (painted from memory) alongside large photographs of the streets of New York which have a successful effect of positioning the viewer looking into that world.

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