By Hilton Als. Foreword by Jeremy Lewison
Known for her portraits of family, friends, writers, poets, artists, students, singers, salesmen, activists, and more, Alice Neel (1900–1984) created forthright, intimate, and, at times, humorous paintings that quietly engaged with political and social issues. In Alice Neel, Uptown, writer and curator Hilton Als brings together a body of paintings of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and other people of color for the first time. Highlighting the innate diversity of Neel’s approach, the selection looks at those whose portraits are often left out of the art-historical canon and how this extraordinary painter captured them; “what fascinated her was the breadth of humanity that she encountered,” Als writes.
The publication explores Neel’s interest in the diversity of uptown New York and the variety of people amongst whom she lived. This group of portraits includes well-known figures such as playwright, actress, and author Alice Childress; the sociologist Horace R. Cayton, Jr.; the community activist Mercedes Arroyo; and the widely published academic Harold Cruse; alongside more anonymous individuals of a nurse, a ballet dancer, a taxi driver, a businessman, a local kid who ran errands for Neel, and other children and their families.
In short and illuminating texts on selected works written in his characteristic narrative style, Als writes about the history of Neel's sitters and offers insights into Neel and her work and process, while adding his own perspective. A contemporary and personal approach to Alice Neel’s oeuvre, Als’s project is “an attempt to honor not only what Neel saw, but the generosity of her seeing.”
Published on the occasion of Alice Neel, Uptown at David Zwirner, New York, and Victoria Miro, London, in 2017.