Sunday, 12 September 2010

This is a portrait by Alice Neel. I went to the Whitchapel Gallery on Friday where they have an exhibition of her paintings. Nearly all portraits. Very direct with a deceptively graphic style: deceptive because you could be lured into thinking it was easy. It certainly isn't easy and all her work demonstrated a sound classical training (Ladies Art College in Philidelphia where she was taught by Roert Henri who wrote The Art Spirit given to me by Pete Sanders and a constant source of stimulus). Few of her subjects were appealing in their own right, but it was hard not to connect with them on a visceral level. There was much written about her work being "psychological", that is to say, you were meant to became aware of the subjects psychological state through the paintings. That seems to me to be straining it a bit. What was true for me was that it was that everything in the picture talked about the person: foremost for me, on almost every occasion were the eyes. usually staring directly at you, often widened, sometimes enlarged. Then there were the hands. Not so pronounced in this painting but in so many others the hands spoke loudly about the state of the subject. The pose, often exaggerated, but always highly resonant.

This was an important gallery visit. The first in my newly found 'art days'. Next week my course begins. But this was in my own time. No constraints, in fact I watched virtually all of the 90 minute film about Neel made by her grandson. Now that was psychological: much if it told through the slightly tortured testimony of her two sons. Watching it without a deadline, then returning to the pictures. It was rewarding in just the way I had hoped this time would be.

BUT, that is just looking. Important in itself. This Tuesday I will look and draw. That requires proper looking and it is still a struggle every time. I am off to the British Museum: a good place to look and may mean that I just possibly post one of my own drawings! Now that will be a step.

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