Him and her
In this pastel drawing, the great American portraitist Alice Neel depicts herself in bed with then-boyfriend José Santiago, a Puerto Rican singer-guitarist she met in Greenwich Village.
The influence of Egon Schiele’s gothic sexuality and sinuous line is writ large: Neel’s a fiery-haired waif while Santiago’s spiky limbs and big quiff echo the Austrian expressionist’s self-portraits.
Schiele’s rotten beauty is in place. Yet Neel is yet to develop the warts-and-all candour she later showed in works such as her depiction of a half-nude Andy Warhol.
The space between us
With their eyes closed, the lovers are distant from each other, and us. They might be paper cut-outs, brought haphazardly together. This detachment is typical of Neel’s pictures of José who, whether strumming his guitar or post-coitus, remains impenetrable.
After meeting José, Neel ditched the bohemianism of the Village for Spanish Harlem. The portraits she made of her neighbours there proved a major breakthrough.
Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, Fri to 8 Oct