I met Alice Neel in 1979 when I showed large nudes in Soho and she walked into the Gallery and shrieked "look at that c-nt upon viewing a foreshortened naked woman! At the time Neel was doing a print with a friend who was exhibiting in the next room so she loyally came to see her work.
Alice was a real character - who could be both generous and difficult, passionately connected to the people who inhabited her world(s) be they political, familial or, the neighborhood denizens. I have always felt a real affinity to her choice of subjects since I too paint the "world in which I walk".
The exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum is a MAJOR retrospective... exhausting in the number of pieces that are hung to the point where I felt some more editing could have been done. BUT "old friends - familiar paintings" were there and looked as fresh as ever. I LOVE seeing her still lives and cityscapes. The color is radiant and Alice's sense of structure is evident - white becomes a color that allows air to enter and surround the painting space so we can breathe more easily. Some paintings are satirical, others are so true to the character of the person that they are often deemed as cruel; others hone in so sensitively to the fragility of being human, that I weep for the model's future navigating life's often harsh demands.
Her heart is visually open to view; sex is not taboo - many of the men she cohabited with are depicted before and after fucking, revolutionary at any time. Motherhood including the tragedies that she endured are presented, as well as hospitalization brought on by the burdens of grief and anguish after the loss of her baby daughter to Diptheria at 1 year old.
Alice Neel looked like a country lass - rotund and apple-cheeked hanging out with the Bohemians and revolutionaries/anarchists of her time. Her journey included living in Cuba, Greenwich Village, among other places, and since the mid-1960s on the Upper West Side in a large apartment where her paintings were stored and she set up a studio section to paint.
This exhibition is worth seeing. I believe that Alice's painting style was uniquely her own often portraying hands and feet as if they were afterthoughts - appendages that exist - but are not crucial to a painting - yet when they were NEEDED she knew how to emphasize them. I am in awe of Alice Neel's spirit - a word I rarely use. She was brave, original, taking risks, and indulged her curious nature - the highest compliment I bestow on another artist.