Alice Neel’s Alice And José, 1938

Unpicking the elements of the American portraitist’s famous pastel-on-paper

neel
Photograph: © The Estate of Alice Neel. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London
Photograph: © The Estate of Alice Neel. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

Last modified on Thu 22 Feb 2018 12.15 EST

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.

Dead pretty

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.

Early days

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.

Neighbourhood watch

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

comments (0)

Sign in or create your Hlcarpenter.com account to join the discussion.

comments (0)

Sign in or create your Hlcarpenter.com account to join the discussion.