by William O’Connor
“You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is.. unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far.” - Alice Neel
In a time of highly abstract American artists in the 1950’s and 60’s dominated by men like Rothko, Pollock and Still, Alice Neel (1900-1984) painted figurative work in a style reminiscent of the early modernist German Expressionists. Using color and caricature in a primitive technique, she captured the essence of her subjects with their unapologetic gazes at the viewer, using bold colors and expressive brushwork to paint “humanity”.
Neel’s approach presaged the Neo-Expressionist movement by almost 20 years, and after long decades of failure and obscurity finally became regarded as a visionary painter towards the end of her career. While some categorize her work as “feminist” her life experiences played a formative role in her painting style in a field dominated by men.
By the time of her death in 1984 Neel had won national acclaim as a leading American painter winning awards of recognition in the arts, a retrospective at the Whitney Museum, and illustrating the cover of Time Magazine. Today Neel’s paintings hang in major museums all over the world, along side her early Post Modern contemporaries like Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Chuck Close. Her bold portraits have influenced painters and illustrators for years. Mother, Wife, Activist, Iconoclast and Artist, Alice Neel was as unique a person as the characters she chose to illustrate.
For more information about Alice Neel visit: The Official Web site of the Alice Neel Estate
2010 New York Times article on the retrospective and on-going influence of Alice Neel.
Not Sitting Pretty, a biography of Alice Neel by Pheobe Hoban
View the 2007 Alice Neel Documentary trailer here: