Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lucian Freud and Alice Neel

Lucian Freud's Self Portrait
A few weeks ago, my advisor and I chatted on the phone. We discussed the direction of the semester and some of the areas of interest I had explored. I initially had thought I would want to pursue more abstract ideas about genetics. However, AIB faculty, Tony Apesos had recommended that I read Richard Brilliant's book, Portraiture. It was so fascinating that I abandoned the abstract ideas of art and science and started to question why I was attracted and interested in portraiture. During the phone conversation, my advisor suggested to widen the scope of my audience and my artwork. In other words, instead of limiting myself to just people suffering from Neurofibromatosis, to branch out and start to paint other individuals as well. She was concerned that I would unintentionally become the "NF Artist" rather than just simply "An Artist". She made a good point and I instantly remembered how I felt after someone at a show had said "Rachel Mindrup..I know you, you're the Fruit and Flowers Chic". I remember thinking "I paint more than just fruit and flowers!" So, I could identify quickly with her advice.

Her second piece of advice was to look closely at the subjects of Lucian Freud and Alice Neel. Now, I am not going to lie, I love Lucian Freud. His paint handling is amazing and his extremely honest portrayal of the human figure has always caught my attention and interest. Alice Neel, although I admire her role in art history and her rather Bohemian lifestyle, does not really capture my attention in the same way. My advisor told me not to concentrate on the formal aspects of painting quite as much as who the subjects of the paintings. 
alice neel painting, The Arab, 1976
Alice Neel's The Arab
After researching them both, it seems that they both did portraiture of a wide array of individuals.  Neel's portraits of the 1930s embraced left wing writers, artists and trade unionists. She later maintained her practice of painting political personalities, including black activists and supporters of the women's movement. Lucian Freud painted subjects, who were often the people in his life; friends, family, fellow painters, lovers, children. He said, "The subject matter is autobiographical, it's all to do with hope and memory and sensuality and involvement, really."

I thought about who the subject of my paintings should be. I finally decided, in the spirit of them both, to paint the portrait of a fellow artist. Also, this fellow artist is well known throughout the midwest region which would make him a bit more of an Alice Neel type of subject. He is also a portraitist, but uses the medium of sculpture to create monumental busts and life size bronze pieces. I am going to paint Littleton Alston.

Littleton Alston in his studio

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