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Alice Neel

An exhibition of portraits of the family by Alice Neel, one of the finest painters of her generation, is at the Norton Museum of Art February 14 through March 29, 1998. Both critics and the subjects of her paintings have written of Neel's ability to portray the dynamics of relationships. Kinships focuses on particular family relationships: siblings, domestic pairs, parents and children, and members of her own family. The exhibition was organized by the Tacoma Art Museum, and is sponsored by The Elizabeth Norton Society.Born in 1900, Alice Neel worked as a figurative painter during the decades of WPA realism, postwar abstract expressionism, and 1970s minimalism. She persevered in her work despite a turbulent personal life that included a year of hospitalization after a nervous breakdown, the destruction in 1934 of over two hundred and fifty paintings and drawings, and little attention to her work until the 1960s. Her art demonstrates a vigorous working manner, an unsparing skill in observation and a generous tolerance for the unpredictability of human nature.Neel disliked being called a portraitist, but rather labeled herself as a "collector of souls." She believed that each person has an identity, an essential core of personality, and it was this that she sought to reveal in her paintings. She often captured aspects of relationships of which her subjects were not aware, and combined in her work her stringent analysis of their interactions with a broad acceptance of the depth of human emotions. She painted her subjects as distinct individuals, in the poses that were natural to them; poses that, in Neel's words, "involve ... all their character and social standing ... what the world has done to them, and their retaliation."The compositions, as well as the subjects' body language, of such works as The Black Spanish American Family or Annemarie and Georgia, allows the viewer to observe how family members draw together tenderly or reluctan...

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