Alice Neel

1941 Two Girls in Spanish Harlem Watercolour on Paper 20 1/2 x 15 1/2 inches / 52 x 39.4 cm Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division, The New York Public Library

Last week Anne suggested our writing group go to a local screening of the film “Alice Neel.”  She had seen three of Neel’s paintings at the National Portrait Gallery the week before, and was astonished by their power and vibrancy.  None of us had heard of Alice Neel, but we agreed it would be fine way to spend an evening meant to nurture creativity, to see a movie about a woman who devoted her life to her art.

The film was directed by Andrew Neel, Alice’s grandson, and “it explores her struggles as an artist and a single mother from the Depression era until her death in 1984.”  There is extensive commentary from Neel’s two sons, who grew up with a mother clearly possessed by her art and not always as focused on parenting as women of that era were expected to be.  Having lived through my own possession by a poetry demon (my language for that intense year) when I wrote The Truth About Death after Eric died, I have a tiny idea of what an entire life ruled by that kind of need to create can be like.

The film was excellent, and as Anne had said, Alice Neel’s paintings even as seen in a documentary, were powerful, direct and “fresh,” as one of her artist friends in the film said.  Now I need to see some of her paintings in real life — there is one at the MFA in Boston — and I want more people to know about this extraordinary woman and painter.  Thus this post.  Click on the link above and check her out.

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