CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 4/9/2015
Published to accompany the show on view at David Zwirner through April 18, Alice Neel: Drawings and Watercolors 1927-1978 is a gem. Reviews for the show have popped up everywhere from The New York Times to The New York Review of Books. In New York Magazine, Jerry Salz writes, "In a gathering of beautiful small drawings and watercolors—many of them done when she was young and living in Harlem with a series of lovers—Alice Neel's virtuosity resonates. She reveals, revels, and takes solace in the secret garden of deeply human, intimate moments between lovers, and her touch allows you just far enough into the work to let you know that all of this was real."
ABOVE: "Richard" (1959).
In the book, essayist Jeremy Lewison writes, "What marks Neel out from her forebears is not the intimacy of the subject but the intimacy of her approach. Her concentration on family, while perhaps having a precedent in the work of Berthe Morisot or Mary Cassatt, the female Impressionists whose romanticism Neel decried, was entirely without sentimentality, at least subsequent to the death of her first child. From then on it was dispassionate and candid without eschewing the personal.
ABOVE: "￼￼Hartley and Ginny" (1970).
Neel, who said that in another life she might have been a psychiatrist, worked from intimate knowledge of her sitters derived from talking to them, listening to them, and observing them while she held them captive in her lair. She described herself as a ‘collector of souls’ and, like any serious collector, she saw her task as understanding her specimens in the greatest depth possible.
AVOVE: "Sam" (1958).
If Neel was not considered a radical in her time, because she did not conform to modernist orthodoxy, paradoxically we can see her in retrospect as radical precisely because she did not conform. Her decision not to follow fashion, to adhere to a more or less realist approach to making art in a period of high abstraction, was courageous as was her communist affiliation in the face of governmental hostility.
ABOVE: "Self-Portrait Skull" (1958)
To remain apart, whether in the location of her dwelling in Spanish Harlem or in her stylistic choice, was a conscious refusal of normative behavior. Being true to yourself is more radical than to follow fashion and it is with hindsight that we can see that there were many alternative paths beside modernism that were equally valid, engaging, and exploratory.
ABOVE: "Ginny" (1975).
Neel’s approach to drawing and painting, if not experimental, is authoritative, distinctive, and engaged with a long tradition that she sought to develop rather than to overthrow."