Alice Neel, Hartley, 1966.
Photo Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. © Estate of Alice Neel
It is a great pleasure to introduce our special issue devoted to American artist Alice Neel (1900-1984). I want to thank Jeremy Lewison, who first told me about the exhibition Alice Neel: Painted Truths, which he co-curated (with Barry Walker) for the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (where it will be on view from March 21 - June 13, 2010; it will travel thereafter to the Whitechapel Gallery in London and the Moderna Museet in Malmö), when we met last year in London. Sometime before I met Jeremy I had seen the most incredible show of Neel’s work at Victoria Miro Gallery in London. I did not know Jeremy then and that he had organized the show at Miro. What was extraordinary about it were the command and presence of the paintings. Being portraits, the images seemed to look right into your eyes. But it was mostly the paint, and how this paint became form, that touched a nerve within me. No matter how distorted the form, the primacy of the human body is present in a Neel portrait.
In 1979 I went to a lecture at the graduate school I was attending given by Alice Neel about her work. I remember not only the power of her work but the passionate way she spoke about her life as an artist. She must have been about 78 or 79 when she gave this talk, and she made quite an impression on me as a young artist. What I remember is her passion for her life, her spirit and, of course, the story of her life as a painter.
I want to thank Michael Klein, who instigated this issue, and Michael, Jeremy, and Stuart Horodner for their richly illuminating and personal reflections on Ms. Neel’s work. I know she would have liked this portrait of herself.
All my best,
The Art Section
This special issue of TAS on Alice Neel was originally published March 2010
Deanna Sirlin is an artist. Her recent book is She's Got What It Takes: American Women Artists In Dialogue was Published by Charta Art Books 2013.