Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Foremothers in the Arts: Alice Neel

Women in the arts are continuously overshadowed by male artists. In every media women are put on the back burner. If you don't believe me, ask the Guerrilla Girls, or look up how many female artists are displayed at prominent museums compared to male artists. Like being an artist just isn't hard enough, the patriarchy is still there, making it even harder. That is why I have chosen to blog once again about another important artist to me, so to continue with this foremothers theme, I would like to introduce you to the dynamic Alice Neel.

Neel was born near Philadelphia in 1900, she studied at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. In the 30's she lived in Greenwich Village, New York. With very leftist thinking and a strong social consciousness, she lived the life that I dream of. She painted dynamic portraits of Andy Warhol and Frank O'Hara. She supported black activists and was friends with leaders in the women's movement. She painted portraits of them during her time living in the Upper West Side. Neel received numerous awards, including the International Women's Year Award in 1976 and the National Women's Caucus for Art Award for outstanding achievement in the visual arts in 1979. Her nude portraits done during this time were ground breaking and completely unrestrained. Neel died in 1984.

Her self portrait is probably her most well known piece, I saw it a few weekends ago in the National Portrait Gallery (in the above right photo). She was unashamed of her body and age, which is rare. Her style is so influential and I used her as reference in my undergraduate thesis that I just finished last semester. In my thesis, I examined archetypes of women in Greek mythology. I wrote a paper and had a show of six paintings that represented six various goddesses. Neal was known for her unique way of illuminating "flaws". She illuminated the most prominent trait of her subjects. For example, if someone had a large and obviously prominent nose, then she would make it a large and definitive part of the piece. I used this technique when referencing a certain prominent part of the goddesses from either their physical description or myth, and making it obviously seen in the piece.

I love everything about her work, from her self portrait, to her earlier nudes, to the 1967 oil, Nancy and Olivia.

Thank you Alice Neel for living a fascinating life, sharing your art, and opening up the lines between feminism, political consciousness, and painting.

1 comment:

Lily said...

Great post!
Are you going to do more of these? If you're going into politics, you should try doing one on Anita Hoffman. She was married to Abbie Hoffman in the 60s, and did a lot of work for the Yippie party. She has been almost totally forgotten.