Alice Neel

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Alice Neel is the epitome of that troubled artistic soul whose real life traumas shaped some of the most exhilarating, beautiful and somewhat eccentric paintings to date. Two perfect words to describe Neel and her work would be spellbinding strangeness. Some of her paintings have been quite intimate and disturbing at the same time, mostly because they were drawn from her chaotic and tragic personal life. They offer a unique insight into the artist’s mind who spoke mostly to the world through her work. For 40 years she worked in obscurity before the world finally discovered her remarkable turn as an artist. The most reoccurring subject matter of her paintings was her vast extended family who featured in most of her works – hence some of the dark elements found within her paintings were so disturbing as she depicted them right around her real life family who used to model for her.

Alice Neel was born in 1900 in Pennsylvania, USA into a middle class family. Despite being born to a highly educated accountant father, Neel was raised during a time when there weren’t many expectations or opportunities for women. With no help coming from her mother, Neel enrolled in a civil service exam and ended up working as a highly paid civil servant in order to support her family. Unknown to them was the fact that Neel was also taking nightly art classes at the School of Industrial Art, she finally enrolled in a proper art school graduating from it soon afterwards. Today Neel is regarded as one of the great American painters of the 20th century and a pioneer amongst female artists. Neel’s approach to paintings was on her own terms, whilst not opting to belong to any artistic movement Neel drew inspiration from Spanish and Scandinavian paintings. Despite her unusual upbringing where women weren’t regarded as having much of a future outside domesticity Neel grew up with a strong socially conscious mind. This why most of her paintings showcase women in every walks of life, as mothers, daughters, workers, actresses, prostitutes and even civil servants.  Soon Neel’s subject matters started including neighbors, minority communities, laborers, writers, acquaintances, and anyone she basically encountered on the streets. Her famous works also included portrayals of black artists and supporters of women movements. Neel painted her objects as they were, hairless, hairy, fat, thing, tall, short – however they come to her.  There was no pretense in Neel’s work.

One of her masterpieces, her portrait of Andy Warhol is simply phenomenal. In the painting Warhol is shown as contained and absorbed in his own silence – naked from head till waist sitting on a divan. Her typical wonkiness style of painting is on full display here, the strong use of pastel colors and wild thick black brush strokes give Warhol’s an almost inhuman angle making him appear bigger then he actually was. Neel’s portrait of Andy Warhol is considered to be one of the greatest portraits of the 20th century. Alice Neel had the unique ability to make her subject matters awkwardness and imperfections stand out in a positive light through her paintings.

Alice Neel Paintings

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