Critical Writing – Alice Neel by Chantal Joffe

This is my critical writing so far. I have still got 235 words without really describing the work.

Chantal Joffe considers Neel a rather anachronistic character. This makes me wonder how unconventional she actually appeared in the 1930s and 40s. The work feels honest and Joffe’s suggestion that Neel might not have even been aware of it’s shock value rings true. Alice Neel painted her life how it was. She drew from her own experience and continued painting amidst the often painful family situations that life threw at her. She painted her family, neighbors, artists, and political activists. 

Alice Neel’s work is difficult to define. Her work is compelling and she always gives you just enough detail to show you how things are. As a relatively successful older woman, largely thanks to the second wave of feminism, she gives us her personal redress to the objectification of women. When showing us Margaret Evans pregnant in 1978 she presents us with a real person sitting uncomfortably poised on the verge of motherhood. Like Joffe, who is two generations younger, she makes herself the objective subject of portraiture. Joffe works from photography and Neel from life. Neel presents us with her naked eighty year old figure and Joffe, also shows us herself, often in an uncomfortable state of undress. To make ones own life the subject is a brave decision but after reading Joffe’s article I question whether it was even a conscious choice. 

margaret evans pregnant                 alice neel self portrait                 chantal joffe self portrait in studio 2011

Margaret Evans pregnant 1978                       Self portrait 1980                     self portrait in studio 2011

Critical Writing Workshop. Alice Neel by Chantal Joffe

As I need to write this today I am making a decision to write about the Alice Neel piece. The Miho Sato work really interests me as no one has a face and as we have just read Ansel Krut’s interview in the artists interview. I am also interested in her as someone who is distanced from a distinct culture: not Japanese nor English. Alice Neel seems to do the opposite and draw us in, at times where we do not want to go or feel comfortable . It will be hard to write so little about the issues this article raises. I will try to focus on the ones which interest me the most. The place of autobiography in artwork and women as mothers and artists. I doubt I will be able to do even that much justice in 200 words.

Critical Writing Workshop Preparation Painters on Painters

alice neel self portrait       miho-sato-sister-domobaal-2005

Alice Neel – Self Portrait  1980             Miho Sato – Sister 2005


I have chosen the following article about Alice Neel by Chantal Joffe after looking at a variety of painters who inspire me. After reading many words by artist’s about their work I chose an article by another painter.

Click to access issue-4-preview.pdf

My alternative is an article about Miho Sato by Ansel Krut – also turps banana but in print. I need to decide quickly.


frame form fracture - final purple Not a good photograph as it is pouring with rain but I need to consider form and wanted to add an image before I started to add form to this. It is the same composition and roughly same dimensions but painted on calico using acrylic, my reason for doing this being that I can easily sew, cut and maybe manipulate it in a variety of ways. However, using acrylic on calico turned out to be an amazing experience in itself. I really enjoyed the way the paint worked on this fabric and want to return to this.

My ideas for FORM:

to add the illusion of form (which I already did a little in paint in order to focus on 3 of the characters) using stitching.

to form the relationships between the group like a kind of map or diagram

to literally add form to the support by bending or folding it so it is no longer a 2D 2D piece.

fff 1  initial ideas for form

embroidery version form    hanging form   detail form   hang form

After adding embroidery I experimented with hanging the work from the ceiling and adding form that way. I believe it might have worked better with a larger scale piece. For example if the figures were life size. Nevertheless I was not really convinced that either the stitching or the curving of the support really added to my ideas. The stitching added an interesting texture but the process seemed to detach me in a way and, although I quite enjoy a bit of sewing, I felt drawn to paint over the lines and I prefer the fluidity of the lines in paint. I could also imitate stitches relatively easily in paint if I chose. I suppose the stitching removes the individuals from the group and isolates them more than when I either delete or omit them. In a way they still exist there but are depersonalised, they are not being seen for who they are, I quite like that idea.

To make an installation of the painting well in this way (as in the sketches) would have eaten up all my time so I chose to move on to fracture after these quick experiments. What I liked about this way of seeing the work was the distortion and the fact you could never see the full group. This nicely reflects how I feel about groups. When there are a lot of people I usually feel alone because you can’t deal with them all. I can only really focus on small groups at a time. Many people go unnoticed in groups, so maybe seeing a few at a time allows us to focus on the invisible ones more. This is a line of investigation I am leaving hanging for the moment.

FRAME 21/11/14

I began by physically collaging the image and reframing the individuals within it. Starting with inverting faces by gender:

Frame 2    Frame 1 jpeg       Frame 5a

I have been toying with the idea of literally adding frames inside a support – dividing up the canvas. However the dividing up the canvas is something I already do quite a lot: for the couples, also for other groups and I wanted to try a direction that is new for me. I do not want to repeat the work I made on the making day for this task, although I do still want to develop this further.

However I really wanted to go back to the idea of selecting, rather like you do with a camera and focusing on certain details or, in this case, individuals within a composition. I realised something that I had wanted to get back to in my work was the selection. However this process was more about memory than perception. That in time we forget people rather than we don’t notice them. This also makes more sense with the analogue photos.

DSC_0004    korean paper (150 x 75cm) I tried adding details to 3 of the faces and erasing covering or leaving out other characters.

At this point I found an old canvas which had failed many times. I had painted over various compositions and kept it for recycling but it still had the ghost of a group of people (coincidentally the same ones I used for the making day on 25th Nov.)


FRAME 16/11/14

Today I need to go back to the ‘Frame’ stage of the Task 2. I am going to choose an image an try literally framing it first.


I chose this because it is a typical photograph I use. It is posed and one can immediately begin to invent a narrative around it.

Lisa Barnard Lecture 17th November

Lisa Barnard’s lecture this Monday covered so much ground I hope that I can do it some justice. Although I took notes I feel sure something will have slipped by. She is a known as a contemporary documentary photographer who makes work which is mainly photography based but involves installations, publications and time based media. Barnard somehow finds time to teach at University of South Wales as well. Her current work explores the relationships between the military, entertainment and technology which therefore leads her into problematic territories of conflict and politics. This lecture also introduced me to a variety of photographic techniques and ideas that were new to me and I am not sure I understand them all very well. Lisa was really clear at explaining the theoretical basis of her work which made it really interesting.

In the initial series we looked at Barnard explained that in this early work she was interested in the relationship between the art, artist and viewer and she used a camera with a large negative 5/4 (inches I assume) in which the plane of focus is tilted. The effect is curious and one does have to make a much more careful look which is her intention. She showed us a series of portraits in which quite large parts of the composition were out of focus whilst the subject and some of the background and foreground were totally in focus – this is totally new to me and I found it fascinating.

Looking at Theatre

At this earlier stage in her career her concern was to make art photography about photography. She was concerned with the idea of art as expressed by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy in which Apollo and Dionysus unite. Apollo bringing order to the Dionysian chaos of art. She got  a residency at the Unicorn theatre where she set up a black box by one of the seats and photographed children immersed in watching the theatre. Only the photographs of children who were really immersed worked as they had to remain completely still for the long exposure necessary. This creates a psychological depth to the images making them very strong and intense.

Tahira  Tahira from Looking at Theatre

Blue Star Moms

However, Barnard realized that her most compelling aim was to work in the realms of documentary photography. The Blue Star Moms is a support group in the USA for mothers of US military who are in active service overseas. Barnard worked with this group and made a series of portraits. She also made 3 series of ‘care packages’ in some cases these are what they send to their loved ones and also anonymously. In one case this is a series of items that were given to a bereaved family which Barnard explained felt very banal but were items aimed at making things easier for a grieving family. For some of this work she also worked with a support group in the UK.

Community Project – Polska by The Sea

Barnard showed us examples of work she made as part of a community project in Eastbourne. The idea was to work with 1st generation immigrants from Poland to this coastal town. She explained that she made series which are typological, a term used for series of photographs which are formally similar. This culminated with a large series of portraits displayed at the railways station and smaller object based images produced as free postcards.

polska by the sea   polska  Polska by the sea installed in the Eastbourne railway station.

32 Smiths Square – HQ of the Conservative Party

This building had been the Conservative party HQ until 2004 and was subsequently blamed for the party’s downfall. It had been the HQ for decades and was strongly related to Margaret Thatcher. Lisa made 3 series related to the Space, Margaret Thatcher and abandoned objects she found in the building.


She produced a publication ‘Chateau despair’ and also exhibited the photographs in installations. She gave us an example of the way she showed the series of Margaret Thatcher photos using light boxes and which were based on old photographs she found stuck together and ‘ruined’ with chemicals.


Bertolt Brecht

Barnard explained the relationship between her work and the ideas of Bertolt Brecht. She wished to make her audiences aware of themselves and not to identify too much with the protagonists of her images making it more probably that they will be critical. Speaking specifically about Mother Courage she described how she doesn’t want them to feel too comfortable with their response and therefore she hopes to inspire action.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Another residency lead Barnard to ICT (The Institute for Creative Technology) who use virtual reality to investigate war and gaming. Through Virtual Iraq they also experiment with gaming techniques to help ptsd victims she learnt how serious a problem it is for many who engaged in warfare and about how little it is understood.

Virtual Iraq is a program for which you wear uniform and a display attached to the head. This is combined with simulations of explosions from movements and audio. The theory is that this experience will stimulate memories.

dee-Lisa-Barnard-Head-Gear-Used-by-a-soldier-receiving-treatment-for-PTSD-2008-Image-Copyright-Lisa-Barnard     PTSD-Controller-lisabarnard-01




Finally Barnard introduced us to her most recent project about Drones in which she uses photography and other technology to focus on the Drone pilots’ relationship to the screen. These images are based around the relationship of the pilots who work in Las Vegas and the area where their aircraft are fighting in Waziristan. We saw a short film with a split screen which had the drive to work on one side in Las Vegas and the other side driving in Pakistan.

too thin too blue is a series which alludes to the saying ‘the thin blue line’

they are aerial photographs that are accompanied by a short factual text as to the fatalities committed in that area. Drones are claimed to aim at only military targets but this is disputed



Barnard really uses theories and she explained her interest in Paul Virilio and his ideas about speed and technology; the technological sublime, which I believe continues from Kant’s ideas about the sublime and would like to read more about; and how you are more powerful if you control the skies. To sum up she introduced us to so many ideas relating to a variety of disciplines which give much food for thought.

Making Day 15th November 2014

I have decided to work on the ‘communities’ project. I want to try using the same composition but with the 20 x 20 heads use small canvases and introduce colour. I am going to start with the same composition and unite the canvases through drawing on the wall possibly using charcoal.

12de octubre  This is the wall in my studio with the most recent ideas for this using transparent plastic, paper and acrylic paint.

I chose to work on 20×20 canvases which I was going to use ‘crude’ natural color without primer. However the first problem I had was with the canvas I had bought which is great for using off stretcher – directly on floor or wall – did not want to be stretched. In the end I used some white primed canvases that I luckily had already. I spent the morning working on color and painting 3 of the people on the right of the composition.

making day   1   making day 2   2    making day 3  3


I started off with a lot of paint I wanted to work really thickly. I really enjoyed this but I got to the stage where it was difficult for me to continue as it was so wet and there is quite a lot of paint. I therefore moved on to 2 and 3 where I changed pallette, adding purple with blue and diluting the paint more. This was easier for me to handle, it is more how I work but I do want to go back to trying new ways of using paint. I need to wait for the paint to dry though. The most successful at this stage is 3 in which I really like the contrast of dry brush stokes (purple) and much thinner blended paint (orange).

To see where I was headed I then put the 3 canvases on top of the previous drawings to see how they were working.

making day 5                   making day 4

The images are not very clear but the idea is hopefully starting to take shape. My aim is to draw the lines directly onto the wall using charcoal. But this is how far I was at the lunch break.


After lunch I managed to use some natural canvas which was not very well stretched but was more or less able to paint on it. This obviously changed the color significantly. I made 2 canvases one of which appears to have no warm colours at all and the other is significantly cooler than the ones with white primer.

making day 7   4      making day 6   5

I photographed them with the lines drawn on korean paper and then quickly drew the lines in charcoal on a white wall. This is the one I think works the best. The different types of canvas don’t work so badly either. I now have to decide whether to continue to mix them or to which to use. I also need to ‘add’ to them when they are dry. All I need now are walls.

alison 2 making day 15:11    paint on Korean paper (the brown paper shows)

Alison Making Day 15:11    charcoal on white wall

The group said that the slightly unstraight canvases worked and looked intended (it wasn’t ).


Frame, Form, Fracture

I started out last week planning to do something 3D and thinking of the materials I would use for this and chose this order for the task: frame, form, fracture.This was partly because I felt I shouldn’t paint and also because the words initially suggested more 3D processes to me. However, over this week I have changed my mind and decided to start 2D. Partly because I am starting to miss painting and although I like the idea of the ‘holiday’ from my usual practice I feel that during term time I would have to sacrifice painting almost completely for this task and that is not so easy for me. Moreover whilst thinking about the words I realized there were many ideas I have been thinking of which work really well with these words. Going back to my original motivation for doing the MA it was always to push something I considered I would be doing anyway and to do it more rigorously. One of the concerns I have is to challenge what a painting might actually be and I do want to think about adding a 3rd dimension as I pick it apart.

I have therefore picked out a series of images I have not used previously but which interest me and I might use as starting points:

FFFF4 1970s 80s women could be my generation or a little older where are we now? how do we fit into the 21st century as mature women? 4th wave feminism etc?

fff 3fff7 1fff 2

groups of workers – the idea behind this collection was their disappearance but also disappearance of their collective rights, the rights of the trades unions, this I want to couple with the disappearance of communities as they were and for many here unemployment and homelessness.

So my starting points:

Frame: to isolate an image from it’s surroundings, to focus on something. to separate. to package

Form: to build, to shape, to make 3D or appear more 3D. what is not space.

fracture: to cut apart, separate, divide. tear. pull apart, make a fissure, a crack, a wound.