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Neel Life Stories


Ed Koch
Former mayor of New York

A member of my staff, Mary Tierney, made the initial contact with Alice. I knew I was privileged to be painted by this extraordinary woman; people told me how important she was. I sat a very long time for her, but she was very engaging. An exotic personality, I thought.

All these paintings were strewn around the place. I didn't think the painting she did of me looked like me, but I liked it anyway. She was interesting to talk to. She had this amazing face. And she was quite old at the time. Now I'd be just the right age to have another painting done by Alice.

Michel Auder
Director of the documentary
Portrait of Alice Neel: 1976-1982

I met Alice at a party in 1976. I heard her talking to people and I thought Jesus, she's so interesting. So I approached her and asked her if I could come to her studio and videotape her -- she had such interesting stories and good humor. So I went and visited her. Nancy, her daughter-in-law, got some pizza for us. We hung out there the whole day. At that time she had so many of her paintings in the place. She showed me maybe forty paintings and she had something witty to say about every one of them.

Then we became friends. I used to visit once or twice a week for three or four years. She was always interested in video, she had an understanding of it. I shot one session of Alice painting me with the camera on the tripod. For me, being painted by Alice was not that different from hanging around with her. I had seen her so many times working on other people. When she painted me it was like talking to her as usual. I was proud that she was painting me. It made me feel like part of the family. But I never doubted that anyway.

Faith Ringgold

I had known Alice since the late sixties and had met her at the Art Workers Coalition, which was started by a group of New York artists in the late sixties. She was interested in all kinds of change and progress. So when the women's movement began, Alice took an active interest in it. She was an artist, but she was also taking time to live a life that related to change.

In 1977, I had just come back from Africa, and Alice asked to paint me in the nude. I said no, that I didn't want to be a specimen. I knew Alice had a way of painting people so that you saw them in ways you'd never seen them before. I didn't want to be uncovered in that way. Now I kind of wish I had done it back then -- because today I definitely wouldn't pose in the nude. So anyway, I put on this red dress and my hair was braided with beads, because I had just come back from my trip and I thought the beads would go over well in Ghana and Nigeria, and that I could pass as an African -- but they all knew I was American.

I probably posed for her on two or three different occasions. It was very easy for her -- I guess that's the way it is when you've painted for so many years. She was very fluid, and it was wonderful listening to her talk and watching her paint. I don't think she liked that painting, because she wanted it to be a nude picture. Alice was wonderful at manipulating flesh, and that's another reason I'm sorry I didn't pose nude.

She was as young as any young person I knew. She might have been a little slower-moving, but not slower-thinking.


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