New York

Alice Neel

Graham Gallery

Alice Neel, who showed a group of portraits at the Graham Gallery, has a striking ability to get down what it is that is quick and aware and also specific in a human gaze. She concentrates on that riveting and elusive mobility which passes from the look in the eyes to the tension of cheeks and mouth, and goes after it with a style that is above all functional. That is, it has the aptness and inconsistencies of a style that closely mirrors the artist’s concentration—when the concentration falters the style itself obtrudes and seems fiddling and amateurish—Girl in a Green Dress, Anxiety and Hippie are outstanding examples. When the concentration is there, the inconsistencies (linear treatment of fingers on one hand, single stroke blocked-in fingers on the other, all sorts of different kinds of modeling employed on the face from rather slick highlight effects to a single linear swatch for cheek modeling and so on) are unobtrusive in that they seem entirely consonant with a necessary speed to catch the living quality of the sitter. I would call Miss Neel an innocent artist, for lack of a better word, in that she is able to follow her feelings and put down what she sees, sometimes with astonishingly effective explicitness, and has either chosen to be unaware or is untouched by the urgency of certain formal issues confronting figurative painters today. One responds more to the flash of truth that is caught in certain of the paintings than to their formal beauty and profundity; to this extent her portraits make a limited but undeniable place for themselves.

Jane Harrison Cone