Few 20th-century star artists seem as much their own creation as the painter Alice Neel. While New York thrummed to abstract expressionism, then pop and minimalism, she was painting her neighbours in Spanish Harlem. They included trade unionists, wealthy art types, sex workers, poets, pregnant women, her lovers and children.
She had a caricaturist’s gift for telling details: be it the veins in a careworn Haitian mother’s hands or, in her best-known work, Andy Warhol’s scarred torso. Rarely working to commission, she described her projects as “pictures of people”, disliking portraiture’s toadying connotations. “Don’t expect to be flattered!” one sitter reportedly said.