Sunday, February 20, 2011

GO ASK ALICE...

Continuing the summary of the biography of Alice Neel...

“I was a neurotic. Art was my salvation.” Alice Neel



By the age of 31, Alice had suffered many painful experiences. But when she was in the midst of those experiences, she repressed any feelings she had. In a frenzy after the “loss” of her 2nd daughter, Isabetta – her father took her to Cuba and did not return – Alice threw herself into painting. She said that, during this time of mania, she painted some of her best paintings. She did not think. She did not act. She painted.

Eventually, the mania stopped and the true feelings arose. She was admitted to Pennsylvania General Hospital in October 1930 for major depression. She was released in January 1931, returning to her parents’ home. There, taking a cue from a threat her mother often gave her father, Alice put her head in the gas oven. Her father’s comment on finding her was that the gas bill would be high. So Alice was returned to the hospital where she tried to swallow glass she’d smashed, tried to strangle herself with a pair of stockings, and jumped down a laundry chute. During Alice’s stay in the hospital, her mother never came to see her. Perhaps we can see a bit of the coldness Alice felt while growing up and trying to make her way. She did not like or want these people – but she needed them for support, both financially and emotionally.


Carlos came back to the states (with a ticket paid for by Alice’s sister). He tried to talk her into going to Paris with him. She would not go. She said that, by then, she was “too far gone” and nothing mattered. He left without her and in May 1931, she was put into an asylum in Pennsylvania. She was there for 4 months. During that time, she had a respected therapist and, perhaps the real treatment, she was allowed her to have drawing materials. After she was given her art materials, there were no more suicide attempts and she began to get better. When she was released, she returned to her parents’ home, penniless, without prospects. She was invited to spend time with an old friend from the Village, Nadya Olyanova, in Stockton, New Jersey. Alice stayed with Nadya and her husband on and off for several months. It was there that Alice met a red-haired sailor who would become her next lover – Kenneth Doolittle.



By early 1932, Alice and Kenneth Doolittle had moved into an apartment in NYC in the West Village. They lived there together until December 1934. Those years with Doolittle were exciting for Alice. To Alice, Doolittle was a sexy Marxist bohemian. He introduced Neel to the great thinkers and socialists of the day as well as other artists in NYC. Unfortunately, Doolittle was also an opium addict and a very jealous man. During her years with Doolittle, Alice painted freely without ties to children and being a traditional wife. She showed in many local shows and received her first American review in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1933. Alice enrolled in the Public Works of Art (PWAP) Project (the precursor to the WPA) in 1933 and created “revolutionary paintings.” The PWAP was run by the Whitney Museum and, although it lasted only 7 months, it gave work to over 3,500 artists, including Alice. It was the precursor to FDR’s Work’s Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project (FAP) which began August 1935 and ended in 1943. Alice was on the project payroll from September 1930 through August 1942. Alice and other artists of those years became known as social realist painters, painting unsparing portraits of the suffering and starving people of the time. Government funded, there were no restrictions on what an artist created (except nudes were not allowed).


For paintings of that era that survived, see
http://www.aliceneel.com/gallery

Alice’s ambivalence about the men in her life was true to form when she was with Doolittle. She says, “When I lived with him [Doolittle] I still loved Carlos."  And she had gained another man in her life – one who would become a life-long supporter - John Rothschild. However, true to form, her inability to act when it came to making hard decisions, she had the chance to be with Carlos but froze. 

Carlos, whose mother had died, wanted to return to Alice. She was living with Doolittle, pursued by Rothschild, but she wanted Carlos (or so she said).  However, rather than making plans to reunite with Carlos, she stayed with Doolittle. And began a sexual relationship with Rothschild. Because of the relationship with Rothschild, Doolittle got high and destroyed all of her clothes and her art: 60 paintings, 300 drawings and watercolors. He used a knife, cutting up the papers easily and burning them; the canvases he sliced through.  He told his friends he did it because she jilted him. Alice says she became pregnant by Doolittle, did not want to bear his child and had an abortion (paid for by Rothschild). At any rate, Alice fled their apartment, never to return, moving first into a hotel paid for by Rothschild and later to an apartment he set up for her. Again, Alice has suffered a terrible loss – this time of something even more personal to her than her children and husband – her artwork.




















I decided to return to Alice Neel since none of the newer followers (for a potential Sunday Sharing) have blogs.  However, I do enjoy seeing the number slowly climb past 105 and am happy that others see enough of interest in my blog to become a follower :)

10 comments:

Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors said...

thanks for telling the story. Strange and sad.

hw (hallie) farber said...

If she had lived a "sane" life, would her paintings have been as great? And I wonder, if she could relive her life, would she change it?

RH Carpenter said...

Mimi, it was strange - I think she had very cold, repressed parents so she was rebelling against that type of life but became just as distant from her own children due to her putting art first.

Hallie, she didn't get fame and fortune until she was in her late 60's and 70's through 80's and there's no indication that she would have done anything differently because, in the end, she got what she wanted = she was a well-known, respected and highly paid artist.

Tim Robinson said...

Food for thought.Thanks for sharing.

Irina said...

The story makes me think that I will never be the genius artist. Too organized and "right" in boring sense of this word...
Thank you for the post, so interesting. I am so busy now, that almost stopped drawing, all the more commenting. But read blogs, night sleep can wait))

RH Carpenter said...

Tim and Irina, you don't have to be crazy to be an artist - but I guess it helps?? ha ha I think art is a retreat for many of us and good therapy, too, so keep creating!

jgr said...

This is very intriguing - and sad. Than you for typing it all in for us.

RH Carpenter said...

You're welcome, Jane :) More to come in a few days.

Jane said...

Rhonda i am happy you went on with the story of Alice Neel, I was really interested in learning more. Terribly self destructive, probably didn't receive much love when a child, but ended up repeating her parents coldness with her own children.

RH Carpenter said...

Jane, I will post more later...maybe this weekend. She seemed fixated on being sexually bohemian and being an artist but not much interest in her children. I watched a documentary once about her (made by one of her nephews) and her sons said she wasn't a good mother - the book is a bit more forgiving, I think.