Elizabeth Neel (b. 1975) is an American artist based in New York. She received her BA from Brown in 1997, in 2002 she graduated with a diploma certificate from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston before receiving her MFA from Columbia University in 2007.
Neel’s practice combines representational elements with layers of abstraction to manufacture a chaotic beauty. Gestural mark making interacts with more stable lines, creating a tension between organic and more methodological forms of production. Her works are immersive: viewers scrutinise the contours of various painted shapes in an attempt to uncover their source material. While the artist is best known for her paintings she has produced sculptural assemblages that are stylistically aligned.
As part of her process Neel actively uses photographs sourced from the Internet. These run the gamut from Dutch genre paintings to images of agricultural blight. The pictures are sketched, rather than transposed directly onto the surface of the canvas. Paint (oil if the work is on canvas, acrylic if it is on paper) is applied with varying degrees of intensity, at times violently. As she’s mentioned, “I want to work in a space where I can engage with Art History while, at the same time, re-orient it. My paintings are as much the result of observation as any purely internal condition.”
Many critics have pointed to a comparability between the painter’s turbulent brushwork and that of American Abex artists such as de Kooning, though Neel does not actively seek the inspiration or implement the machismo associated with the group. Instead, the artist seeks to explore ‘fictive situations’ that place narrative features in a disjunctive environment. Like the music of John Cage, elements of chance often enter the fray and a degree of randomness is perceivable.
Neel comes from an artistic family. Her grandmother, Alice Neel (1900-1984), was a legendary bohemian portrait painter. Her brother, Andrew Neel (b. 1978) is an established film-maker. When Elizabeth was a child she began playing with a Windsor and Newton paint-box gifted to her by her grandmother. However, she abandoned painting during high-school and university, only turning to art as a career after the completion of her degree.