Never compromising, Neel (1900-1984) steadfastly kept to one goal: to paint people honestly, as she saw them. By painting individuals with all their idiosyncrasies, she also recorded universal constants, thus capturing "the specific person plus the Zeitgeist (spirit of the age)."
Neel's early Depression and WPA paintings are interspersed with flamboyant nudes and portraits of her friends and lovers. Out of her stay in Spanish Harlem emerge Latin American children and the casual acquaintances she met on the streets of her neighborhood. Then, suddenly, there are wonderful, delicate flower paintings in light, cheerful colors.
Neel's paintings of prominent figures in the art and business communities are well known. In the pages of this book parade Andy Warhol, Red Grooms, Henry Geldzahler, Marisol, John Gruen, Ellie Poindexter, Isabel Bishop, Raphael and Moses Soyer, Duane Hanson, Virgil Thomson, and Linda Nochlin - plus a scientist, a politician, a poet, a Fuller Brush man, a taxi driver, a sailor, a laborleader, always her family, and many more. We witness the growth and games of her own children and grandchildren - serious, in costume, alone, and in groups.
Alice Neel's narrative is spicy and very moving, and it brings to life an arresting collection of people, with failings, delights, feelings, and aspirations.
Patricha Hills has woven taped conversations with Alice Neel into a colorful, enlightening text. She is Professor of Art History at Boston University.