I LOVE to look at drawings - love being a word that I rarely ever use, as it is so over-used, but in the case of ALICE NEEL DRAWINGS AND WATERCOLORS 1927-1978 at David Zwirner Gallery (537 W. 20th St. closing April 18th) - it is totally applicable. Seeing Alice Neel’s drawings in all their diversity of medium, style and subject - beginning with small sketches that are moodily saturated with deep colors leading us into the intimacy of her personal world - be it one of angst or heady joy is a revelation. Faces are carefully characterized, but often the hands are left fluttering on the page - an afterthought to the penetration of character that is conveyed in the “map” of the face.
Until this exhibition, I was unaware of the extent to which Alice Neel was a masterful draughts(wo)man and the range of her delineations. In this comprehensive and museum-quality exhibition we come upon large ink and gouache drawings that rival Renaissance masters. The detail and power of observation - executed with a confidence and skill that never turns away from the emotional amplitude of the human physiognomy - seen through the eyes of a woman who searches deeply to gain a foothold into their reality.
Alice Neel felt driven to capture in various media - ink/pencil/watercolor/gouache - with empathy and an affinity of circumstance, her family, friends, and neighborhood locals, but she also had an unflinching steely ability to rip into what she perceived as social and political hypocrisy. From the whimsical cartoony sketches of moments of post-coital release to the easy flow of the line when she depicts her daughter-in-law Ginny floating in a sea of white - the line as effortless as the buoyancy of the light emanating from the paper’s surface, we are etched by the scope of her insights.
After seeing ALICE NEEL DRAWINGS AND WATERCOLORS, I wanted to rush home and draw; co-mingling the people in my life - preserving them through the gestures of line, and form - my hand and their beings chiseled into my art cosmos. For an artist that is the ultimate reward.