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Alice Neel: Hot Off the Griddle

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Describing herself as "a collector of souls”, Neel worked in New York during a period in which figurative painting was indeed deeply unfashionable. The Galleries are a stimulating place for students to experience major artworks from some of the world’s leading visual artists and learn about contemporary and modern art. The great depression leads to some overtly political street-scene works, but they’re pretty awful: badly executed and ugly. Her youngest daughter had died of diphtheria and Enríques had taken their second, Isabetta, to live with his family in Havana. She paints the poor communities of her adopted home with tender sadness and absolutely heaps of empathy.

He was also, though, a Moscow-man through and through, and it’s fair to say, a devoted Party functionary and not exactly a reflective man. She also captured the fervent atmosphere of New York in the 1930s and 1940s, with its labour disputes and protests against racial injustice and fascism, and made intense portraits of everyday people around her in Spanish Harlem, as well as the artistic and communist community – she was investigated by the FBI for her own communist leanings, though described herself as an anarchic humanist. Relentlessly focused on people and human dignity, she described herself as ‘an anarchic humanist’, while the FBI, which kept an eye on her as a member of the Communist Party, described her rather dismissively as ‘a romantic, Bohemian-type communist. Her method, Neel said, was to converse with her sitters until they unconsciously assumed their most characteristic pose, thereby revealing “what the world had done to them and their retaliation”. Reader’s Digest is a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (which regulates the UK’s magazine and newspaper industry).There’s a wonderful moment in the show where you head into the airier, larger downstairs galleries from the more compressed upstairs rooms, and you feel a surge of new confidence. She had been under investigation since 1951 for suspected links through friends and acquaintances, although had never formally joined the organisation.

The heads are always slightly too large for the bodies, the brushwork is never flattering but emphatic; here and there you are looking at garrulous caricature.Text is set in Rhymes by Maxitype, a contemporary re-examination of the ubiquitous ‘Times’ style that was originally created as a modern update to classical forms – much as Neel was approaching portraiture, a painting style often seen as outdated during her lifetime. You can see this in the bandages of a Harlem TB patient with a collapsed lung, but also in the stitches and corset holding together Andy Warhol’s body, post-Valerie Solana’s shooting. The technical storage or access is strictly necessary for the legitimate purpose of enabling the use of a specific service explicitly requested by the subscriber or user, or for the sole purpose of carrying out the transmission of a communication over an electronic communications network.

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