Monday, April 7, 2008

Go Ask Alice (I Think She'll Know...)

Even Neel's clothed portraits are Nakeds. She described herself as a "Collector of Souls." I have a terrific book about Neel that is all interviews with people who sat for her portraits. She was a Character. My friend Carlo knew Alice Neel. He said that she had the filthiest mouth - she was all f__ing this, and f__ing that. And she looked like anyone's grandmother. Funny.

I read that when Neel painted the young Robert Smithson (5th image posted here) she really zeroed in on his acne because she was fascinated with the texture. Smithson asked her to tone it down, which she did, begrudgingly. And later when he was making some rather violent paintings, she teased him, saying, Now Robert! You wouldn't even let me show a little bit of blood.

And this painting of John Perrault (2nd image) has a great story. He was putting together a show of male nudes, and wanted to show some of Neel's older work. But she wanted to show something new and said, I know - you can pose for me! He tells of how he posed several times at her apartment and that she painted the genitals last. Funny!

And there's the famous Joe Gould portrait (top image). If you've never heard of Gould, please read Joseph Mitchell's 1965 book, Joe Gould's Secret. You're in for a treat.

From on-line:

A resident of New York’s Greenwich Village, Joe Gould was an eccentric homeless bohemian. Alice Neel’s humorous portrait captures what one critic has called a ‘comically inflated sense of his virility’. It reverses the traditional relationship of male artist to female nude, with an emphasis on male genitalia that was unusual in 1933. Neel said that ‘Joe wanted this painted, and I was still imaginative enough to give him a whole tier of penises’.

Alice Neel said that his penises look like the onion domes on a Russian Orthodox church.

You gotta love her.


Rob S. said...

I'm surprised you didn't post her nude self portrait at 81 years old. She was a pistol, all right. There's such a frankness to her work that allows you to "get it" right away. Her ability to capture the essence of quirky human traits is dead on. he range runs from humorous to unabashed to fearful - she could capture it all. I think perhaps this is a better study of humanity than Lucian Freud (who is a better painter technique-wise), whose work is almost always full of decay or despair or a heavy ennui. I like them both, but Neel covers more ground.

Martha Miller said...

OK, so Heeere's Alice! Her first and only official self-portrait, although she did do a bunch of watercolor narrative self p's when she was very young.
Yup, seeing alot of Freud at once pretty much made me want to hang myself...