With an art career spanning from 1920 to the 1980s, Alice Neel painted family, poets, singers, bohemians, strangers and celebrities. She famously stuck with figurative painting when it was least fashionable, all the while keeping the " conventional" subject matter honest, funny and slightly morbid. Calling herself a "collector of souls," Neel was not as concerned with capturing her subject's exact features but their zeitgeist in her presence, in that moment in time.
Born in 1900 in Pennsylvania. Neel's exhibition at David Zwirner focuses on the last two decades of her life. Neel's style is economical, and her humor is dry. She reveals her subjects with brutal honesty, neither sugar coating nor insulting. Her paintings combine a caricatured likeness with a amorphous monstrosity. Ugliness is presented, whether through yellow teeth or awkward facial expression, as a reality that is real, funny, and worthy of attention.
Neel reportedly said she was out to reveal "what the world had done to them and their retaliation." Her frank sense of humor reminds us of Frank O'Hara, a poet with an affinity for the absurd that once sat for Neel. Her paintings recall Alex Katz's earnest investment in people with Marlene Dumas' eye for darkness that, even if not seen, is surely felt.
The exhibition shows the evolution of style and strangeness even in a seemingly conventional set of parameters. Neel's works communicate fierce honesty and humor, keeping figurative painting from losing its fire.
The exhibition 'Late Portraits & Still Lifes' will show at David Zwirner Gallery from May 4 to June 23.