WORKS BY MORE THAN 60 ARTISTS, including Faith Ringgold, are featured in “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” Nearly all the artists are black, except Virginia Jaramillo, Andy Warhol (1928-1987), and Alice Neel (1900-1984), who contributed a portrait of Ringgold to the landmark exhibition.

Rinngold has said she posed two or three times for the portrait. Neel painted her wearing a red dress with a patterned skirt and sleeves. She wears beads in her hair and around her neck along with hoop earrings. The 1977 portrait is Jordan Casteel’s favorite artwork.

 


ALICE NEEL, “Faith Ringgold,” 1977 (oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches / 121.9 x 91.4 cm). | © The Estate of Alice Neel, Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London, and Victoria Miro, London

 

“The painting that Alice Neel did of Faith Ringgold is one of those paintings that is just stuck in my psyche,” Casteel says in a New York Times video. The critically recognized, up-and-coming artist was first introduced to Neel’s work in the book “Alice Neel: Painted Truths.” She was preparing to apply for the MFA program at Yale University at the time.

In an accompanying T Magazine article by Antwaun Sargent, Casteel says she saw her own work reflected in Neel’s portraits. “I found myself totally in awe that there was somebody who had made work in a way that I was trying to make work myself,” she says. “Her work emulates and speaks and lusts out with a sense of humanity that I really admired, and was drawn to.”

“I found myself totally in awe that there was somebody who had made work in a way that I was trying to make work myself. [Alice Neel’s] work emulates and speaks and lusts out with a sense of humanity that I really admired, and was drawn to.” — Jordan Casteel

BORN AND RAISED IN DENVER, where her first major museum exhibition was recently on view, Casteel was a 2015-16 artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. She continues to live and work in Harlem where she makes portraits of people in the community, subject she says “might be easily unseen.” Ringgold and Neel are also connected to Harlem.

Ringgold lives and works in Englewood, N.J., but she was born in Harlem and lived there for more than half of her career. The neighborhood inspired “Tar Beach,” the first of many children’s books authored by Ringgold. Casteel grew up reading the book, which is set on a Harlem rooftop.

Neel lived in East Harlem (Spanish Harlem) from 1938 to 1962. Then she moved to West 107th Street, on the Upper West Side, a few blocks south of West Harlem, where she lived the rest of her life. She painted in her apartment, making portraits of her friends, neighbors, political activists, and fellow artists—many of them people of color.

In 2017, Hilton Als assembled Neel’s portraits of African American, Latino, Japanese, Indian, and Arab men and women for the exhibition “Alice Neel Uptown.” Presented at David Zwirner Gallery in New York and Victoria Miro Gallery in London, the exhibition catalog included Ringgold’s portrait. The painting was also featured in “Alice Neel’s Women,” an exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., in 2005.

 


Installation view of “Soul of a Nation” at The Broad in Los Angeles. Shown, From left, “Faith Ringgold” (1977) by Alice Neel, with works by Emma Amos, Beauford Delaney, Raymond Saunders, Bob Thompson, and Barkley L. Hendricks (2). | Photo Pablo Enriquez, Courtesy The Broad

 

“Soul of the Nation” is on view at The Broad in Los Angeles through Sept. 1, and will open at the de Young Museum in San Francisco in November. When “Soul of a Nation” was presented at the Brooklyn Museum, the exhibition label for Ringgold’s portrait read:

    During her decades-long career, Alice Neel painted subjects of personal interest to her, including fellow artist Faith Ringgold. Neel once said that painting portraits is like “writing history.” Beyond just capturing the body, posture, and countenance of a person, she believed a portrait “embodied the character of an era.”

Ringgold had known Neel about a decade when she sat for the portrait. They met in the late 1960s at the Art Workers Coalition. Ringgold said Neel was “interested in all kinds of change and progress.” In 2000, she told New York magazine she had just returned from West Africa when Neel asked to paint her nude. Ringgold said in part:

    “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.”

NEEL PAINTED RINGGOLD seated in a blue-and-white striped chair. Versions of the chair appear in many of Neel’s portraits. A 1972 double portrait of artist Benny Andrews and his then-wife Mary Ellen, depicts him with his leg resting on the arm of the chair. She also captured Helen Merrell Lynd, the sociologist, author, and educator, and Mary D. Garrard, the art historian considered one of the originators of feminist art theory, in the chair. It’s featured in “Ian and Mary” (1971) and “The Arab” (1976), too, both of which were on view in “Alice Neel Uptown.”

A circa 1970 work is titled simply “Portrait of Girl in Blue Chair.” Neel’s son Hartley sits in the chair in a 1971 portrait. The chair is also a central aspect of a well-known nude self portrait the artist painted in 1980.

“When I think about the painting of Faith Ringgold, I feel Alice Neel in that painting. I feel her connection to Faith and her investment in Faith. …There’s a sense of respect in that painting and honoring.” — Jordan Casteel

In the Ringgold painting, her presence and positioning in the chair are a part of what fascinates Casteel about the portrait.

“When I think about the painting of Faith Ringgold, I feel Alice Neel in that painting. I feel her connection to Faith and her investment in Faith,” Casteel says in the Times video. “I am thoroughly excited by the paint application itself. The pattern on her dress. The way she’s seated. It feels very regal. There’s a sense of respect in that painting and honoring.”

Last week, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden announced it was celebrating intergenerational trailblazers at its annual gala in New York. Asked to identify an artist who had influenced her thinking to be honored alongside her, Casteel chose Ringgold. CT

 

After opening at the Denver Art Museum, “Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze” is traveling to the Canter Arts Center at Stanford University (Sept. 29, 2019-Feb. 2, 2020). “Faith Ringgold” is on view at Serpentine Galleries through Sept. 8. “Alice Neel: Freedom” was on view at David Zwirner Gallery in New York earlier this year. Spanning six decades, the exhibition featured works that “resolutely challenged traditional perceptions of sexuality, motherhood, and beauty.”

 

BOOKSHELF
“Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze,” was published to coincide with the artist’s first major solo museum exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. “Alice Neel: Freedom,” a new catalog published in April, accompanied an exhibition at David Zwirner and includes contributions by Helen Molesworth and Ginny Neel of The Estate of Alice Neel. “Alice Neel: Painter of Modern Life” documents a retrospective that traveled to four venues throughout Europe (2016-2018). Curated by Jeremy Lewison of the Estate of Alice Neel, the exhibition featured 72 works dating from the 1920s to the 1980s. Several other volumes explore Neel’s portraits including “Alice Neel: Painted Truths,” “Alice Neel’s Women,” and “Alice Neel: Uptown.” Edited and authored by curators Mark Godfrey and Zoé Whitley, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” documents the international traveling exhibition and features many additional contributors. Recently published by the Museum of Modern Art, “Faith Ringgold: Die (One on One),” considers a single painting by the artist: “American People Series #20: Die” (1967). “American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s” coincided with her traveling exhibition. Ringgold has also authored many children’s books.

 

 

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