American painter Elizabeth Neel is known for large-scale paintings that narrate physical and psychological states through a blend of geometry and abstraction, resulting in expressive works that reference art history, natural landscapes, and the female experience.Read More
Born in Vermont, Neel grew up in an artistic family. She is the granddaughter of the renowned portrait painter Alice Neel, who gifted the artist her first paint box, and the sister of filmmaker Andrew Neel.
As a child, Neel expressed a preference for drawing over painting. The artist honed her skills at Brown University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, both in Boston, followed by Columbia University in New York, where she graduated with an MFA in 2007.
Blending representational elements with abstraction, Elizabeth Neel's paintings are marked by a tension between organic and methodical forms of production. They are at once gestural and linear, thoughtful and spontaneous, demanding for full immersion.
Neel's paintings begin from a set of ideas that are organically related and later expressed across dripping strokes, abstract forms, and arches. A degree of randomness emerges as a result, at times engaging art history and at others opening the composition up to chance.
Early works like Melting Out (2004), an aggregation of dissolving objects set in an ambiguous landscape, are inspired by photographs of Ötzi, a 5000-year-old mummy discovered in the mountainous region of the Austrian-Italian border. The painting blends varying techniques to mimic the process of decay, revealing fragments of rubbish and discarded clothing, seemingly returning to the earth.
Neel's paintings have become increasingly abstracted over the years, first offering distinct impressions of ambiguous but recognisable landscapes that incorporate cultural and historical references, but later departing from this framework.
Accordingly, acrylic paintings like Stranger's End (2021), a blend of forest green and frost white on strips of dripping yellows and brown, appear as expressive smudges, while in the bottom right corner, traces of a broken line carefully punctuate the composition.
Neel's later paintings draw from observation and photographs sourced from the Internet, which the artist first sketches onto canvas and then paints with 'varying degrees of intensity', opening into an exploration of narrative and painterly space.
Entangled forms emerge following the application of acrylic paint using diverse tools like rollers, rags, or the artist's hands. Neel has expressed a preference for acrylic paint for its light application, which allows for greater layering and a faster drying process.
Resulting works like Deposal (2021) often appear explosive, characterised by wide dripping strokes in muted palettes, at once restrained and violent. The vague hint of an insect in the upper left corner points to the figurative roots of the abstracted scene.
Neel's paintings often use abstraction to enquire into physical and psychological states, notably narrating the female experience, conveyed as emotive lyricism and violence.
In Eve (2021), a bleeding vulva-like shape framed by a dripping arch is foregrounded by a pointed red spear. Wrapped in a strip of clouded pink, the spear contrasts with the soft contours of the composition's shapes, where supple forms intertwine with the rigid.
Likewise, The Magda (2021), in which a butterfly shape sits against a bright orange backdrop with yellow and brown splatters trailing behind it, appears to allude to the violence that accompanies the supposed emancipation of women.
Elizabeth Neel has exhibited widely across the United States, Europe, and the U.K.
Select solo exhibitions include Salon 94, New York (2021, 2020); Pilar Corrias, London (2021, 2019, 2016); Susanne Vielmetter, Los Angeles (2020); Mary Boone, New York (2018); Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York (2013); The Sculpture Center, New York (2010); Monica De Cardenas Gallery, Milan (2009); and Deitch Projects, New York (2008).
Selected group exhibitions include Galerie Maria Bernheim, Zurich (2020); Mary Boone, New York (2018); Victoria Miro, London (2018); Cluj Museum, Romania (2012); Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw (2011); 5th Prague Biennale (2011); Saatchi Gallery, London (2009); and Eleven Rivington, New York (2009).
Elaine YJ Zheng | Ocula | 2022
There are certain shows that change one's sense of art. Surface Work is one of them. Spread across two sites, it is nothing less than an anthology of abstract painting spanning an entire century, frRead More