Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty (Paperback)
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“Neel emerges as a resolute survivor who lived by her convictions, both aesthetically and politically.” —Publisher’s Weekly
Phoebe Hoban’s definitive biography of the renowned American painter Alice Neel tells the unforgettable story of an artist whose life spanned the twentieth century, from women’s suffrage through the Depression, McCarthyism, the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, and second-wave feminism. Throughout her life and work, Neel constantly challenged convention, ultimately gaining an enduring place in the canon.
Alice Neel’s stated goal was to “capture the zeitgeist.” Born into a proper Victorian family at the turn of the twentieth century, Neel reached voting age during suffrage. A quintessential bohemian, she was one of the first artists participating in the Easel Project of the Works Progress Administration, documenting the challenges of life during the Depression. An avowed humanist, Neel chose to paint the world around her, sticking to figurative work even during the peak of abstract expressionism. Neel never ceased pushing the envelope, creating a unique chronicle of her time.
Neel was fiercely democratic in selecting her subjects, who represent an extraordinarily diverse population—from such legendary figures as Joe Gould to her Spanish Harlem neighbors in the 1940s, the art critic Meyer Schapiro, Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, Andy Warhol, and major figures of the labor, civil rights, and feminist movements—producing an indelible portrait of twentieth-century America. By dictating her own terms, Neel was able to transcend such personal tragedy as the death of her infant daughter, Santillana, a nervous breakdown and suicide attempts, and the separation from her second child, Isabetta. After spending much of her career in relative obscurity, Neel finally received a major museum retrospective in 1974, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York.
In this first paperback edition of the authoritative biography of Neel, which serves also as a cultural history of twentieth-century New York, Hoban documents the tumultuous life of the artist in vivid detail, creating a portrait as incisive as Neel’s relentlessly honest paintings. With a new introduction by Hoban that explores Neel’s enduring relevance, this biography is essential to understanding and appreciating the life and work of one of America’s foremost artists.
About the Author
Phoebe Hoban is a New York-based journalist who has covered art and culture for a number of major publications, including The New York Times, New York magazine, The New York Observer, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, GQ, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and ARTnews, among others. Her biography of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art (1998) was a national bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her biography of Alice Neel, Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty (2010), was named one of the Best Books of the Year by New York magazine, one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by The Village Voice, and one of the Ten Best Biographies of the Year by Booklist. Her most recent biography, Lucian Freud: Eyes Wide Open (2014), was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Pick.
Alice Neel was born in 1900 in Merion Square, Pennsylvania, and died in 1984 in New York. With a practice spanning from the 1920s to the 1980s, Neel is widely regarded as one of the foremost American painters of the twentieth century. Based in New York, Neel selected her sitters from among her family members, friends, neighbors, and a variety of New Yorkers, and her eccentric portraits are thus a portrayal of, and dialogue with, the city in which she lived. Although she showed sporadically early in her career, from the 1960s onward her work was exhibited widely in the United States. In 1974, she had her first retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
“Neel emerges as a resolute survivor who lived by her convictions, both aesthetically and politically.”
— Publisher’s Weekly
“I highly recommend Phoebe Hoban’s biography of Alice Neel, a riveting portrait of one of twentieth-century America’s most significant women artists, whose recognition late in life came on the heels of tragedy and mental illness, through an unwavering—even pigheaded—determination. It makes for gripping, and sobering, reading.”
— Claire Messud
“Neel was not a postmodernist. Her art was direct and unfiltered, unmediated by the effects of the media. The surprising part is that today it feels utterly up to the minute, perhaps because it bares its anxiety about whether it could be done at all.”
— Deborah Solomon
“In this lively and superbly detailed biography, the first comprehensive exploration of Neel, Hoban examines the complicated life of the free-spirited, iconoclastic protofeminist painter, best known as a portraitist, who was also a card-carrying Communist and a scandalous sensualist.”
— Lilly Wei
“Having gained access to heretofore private and stunningly illuminating materials, Hoban is commanding and entrancing as she chronicles Neel’s contrary temperament and tempestuous life.... Judicious and ardent, Hoban has created a galvanizing portrait of a ‘rebel artist’ who remained true to her humanist convictions.”
— Donna Seaman