The spareness of this portrait, unfinished yet complete, struck me by its beauty. Titled Black Draftee (James Hunter) and painted in 1965, I wondered why it was never finished. Did he go off to war, never to return? Or was it too painful to continue?
After a bit of research I learnt that he only had time for one sitting and Neel left the painting as it seemed to fit his situation.
And yes, he survived Vietnam.
This exhibition of paintings by Alice Neel, currently on at the Barbican, lingers in the mind. I hadn’t seen much of her work in real life and reproduction gives only a hint of the power these paintings exert on the viewer.
In some instances it crept up on me: I had spent some time in front of Linda Nochlin and Daisy from 1973 (below) but had to return twice more before leaving. Daisy is so compelling – she’s almost leaping out of the picture.
A figurative artist with a strong social conscience and a committed humanist, Neel painted those around her with such a clear view: neighbours, friends, ordinary people.
People you wouldn’t normally see in paint. No flattery, the truth.
During the Great Depression she was part of the Works Progress Administration, painting urban scenes in New York, where she lived for most of her life.
Interesting to see this painting, Nazis Murder Jews, recording a demonstration in 1936.
In those days, TB was treated by drastic surgery, removing multiple ribs to collapse and rest the affected lung. as seen above.
The show closes with this self portrait when Neel was 80 years old. She claimed to prefer painting nudes and walked the talk when it came to herself. I loved the fact that her face is flushed – she said it was because painting herself was so hard.
I’ll be returning for another visit.