Auntie Hero
September 16, 2004 5:59 AM   Subscribe

20th-century American artist, Alice Neele, "The Auntie Hero": "While Uptowners were making their way downtown to have their portraits painted by Warhol, Downtowners were going up to 107th Street to sit for this bohemian, auntie-like artist." Check out seven decades of raw, sometimes amazing, but always deeply humane portraits of the often larger-than-life figures who peopled the New York art/lit scene and Neel's personal landscape, including such iconic irrepressibles as Joe Gould, Andy Warhol, Annie Sprinkle, and Bella Abzug. (NSFW)
posted by taz (13 comments total)
Also: The Alice Neel section of the very interesting online Painted Faces exhibit that contrasts the work of Mary Cassatt, Alice Neel, and Karen Kilimnik (all from Philadelphia); Alice Neel: Courage and Truth (on the Whitney Museum's Neel Retrospective); and Neel Life Stories, a great article in which 11 of her subjects, including former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, recall the artist and their experience of sitting for her.
posted by taz at 6:01 AM on September 16, 2004

Ooh, I like that. Had me daydreaming for a while. Thanks, Taz.
posted by PigAlien at 6:22 AM on September 16, 2004

From your last link: She left to the last my genital area, so there was a big hole in the painting until the final session. And of course I was terrified when I would sneak looks at the painting, because she could be quite devastating when she painted you. My penis came out much larger in the painting.

Heh. These are great. She really has a way of stripping people down to their essence, doesn't she? I really love this one. Watercolors that are mostly pencil have always had a place near and dear to my heart. I've never heard of this Auntie Hero. Thanks for the introduction, taz!
posted by iconomy at 7:00 AM on September 16, 2004

I saw a Neel retrospective a couple years back at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (online exhibition notes here). Her work was disturbingly honest. It left me with an unsettled feeling after leaving the galleries -- so much so that it left me with a negative opinion of her work, even though the painterly quality of her pieces is quite wonderful.

She really had a wide assortment of friends whom somehow she convinced to pose nude for her, many of whom were/are famous. I was suprised that the celebrities would let themselves be put "on display" in such a manner.
posted by ScottUltra at 9:11 AM on September 16, 2004

These are great. Thank you!
posted by small_ruminant at 9:18 AM on September 16, 2004

More on Joe Gould (mefi post). Nice find, taz.
posted by shoepal at 9:35 AM on September 16, 2004

ScottUltra, the thing that I like about her is that she seems to seek and find the eccentricity or "other-ness", about people... Kind of drawing out and celebrating (in her way) most of what we tend to gloss over or reject in people we love, or those whom want to like or admire.

I really enjoy the fact that real people are almost always strange - even if an individual's particular idiosyncrasy isn't apparent right away- and I always have, but the older I get, the more queasy I become with our popular standards of desirable looks, behaviors, and traits (as fleeting as those may be) and tend to especially appreciate artistic recognition of exactly those strange-ranging aspects of people even more. I think that a lot of her subjects responded to the fact that perhaps she found their flaws interesting and remarkable - and loveable - in some way. I have the impression that she was a very charismatic person, and was probably good at conveying this feeling.
posted by taz at 10:50 AM on September 16, 2004

I agree completely, Taz. What most suprises me is the fact that these people knew she would portray them in her own honest manner -- one which isn't the pretty and distorted way most people (I assume) like to be perceived. I think it would take a great deal of charisma, as you noted, to convince someone in the public eye to put their vanity aside in order to be portrayed in a "real," yet on some level unappealing, manner.
posted by ScottUltra at 11:37 AM on September 16, 2004

Yeah. It's interesting... and encouraging. Whatever they were responding to, and were pleased by - in some kind of memorial sense, at least - managed to seduce common, low (but ever-insistent) vanity, toward a more poignant, and therefore more beautiful, interpretation. (Though I'm sure that some were just flattered because sitting for her became at a certain point a "fashionable" thing, ironically.)
posted by taz at 1:11 PM on September 16, 2004

What a great post and what an interesting woman.

I found it interesting that she was invited for an exhibition at the Soviet Artists' Union in 1981. She's just so not socialist realist. Maybe Moscow was getting interested in socialite realism?
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:15 PM on September 16, 2004

Nifty, you can really watch her develop as an artist, through Hopper-esque loneliness, drunk with color. Great portraits, but I really love this.
posted by Shane at 4:25 PM on September 16, 2004

gesamtkunstwerk: "socialite realism". Hah ha ha! One gold star!!
posted by taz at 9:22 PM on September 16, 2004

I love Neel, and I love taz. thanks for the post
posted by matteo at 1:09 AM on September 17, 2004

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