With Jean Cocteau as our guest referee, little wonder the Kick-About #4 was a game of magical doorways, shadowy thresholds and nebulous reflections. This time we have Alice Neel as our muse, whose uncompromising paintings have, hardly surprisingly, prompted a range of provocative impressions from our motley crew of up-for-it creatives. Happy browsing.
“This painting really intrigued me, so I took time to read about the story behind it and the symbolism within it. Alice Neel painted Symbols in response to her husband leaving her, taking their daughter with him. When I look at the doll and glove on the table, I see things that were left behind by the daughter when she left, little items that were once insignificant, now a symbol of what has been lost. There are discussions on how the inclusion of the cross and apples represent Eve, perhaps suggesting Neel sees herself as the the destroyer of her own Garden of Eden – her family. In my piece, I wanted to take the symbols that stood out the most to me, and using Neel’s style, create a new piece. The doll to me is a symbol of childhood, the cross a symbol of sacrifice, the apple and leaves representing Eden, now lost.”
“I decided to do some monoprints and had several tries where the prints just weren’t matching the vision in my head for this challenge. Finally, in frustration, I mixed some fabric ink I had with the printing ink on a small metal rolling plate and had that moment of excitement when I pulled the paper off the plate. The two inks weren’t really compatible (even says so on the bottles!) and the effect was much closer to what I was looking for – much closer to Alice’s experience, I think. Alice Neel’s biography is fascinating and she lived a difficult life as a woman artist, receiving popular recognition only later in life. She painted unvarnished, unflinching portraits of her subjects and from what I read, never compromised on that.”
“When I saw the prompt for the next round of the Kick About I was intrigued. I didn’t know this painting or this artist, so I started Googling and found out more. I looked at the painting again; there was an unsettling mixture of childhood and adult references going on. The painting started to trigger thoughts and memories of my own childhood…”
“I initially mistook the doll in the painting for a voodoo doll, which sent me down a Wikipedia rabbit warren. I surfaced on an article about cunning folk; practitioners of folk magic and divination in England from medieval times up to the early twentieth century. They learnt their craft through spell books called Grimoires, which taught how to create magical objects such as talisman and amulets, other magical spells, and how to summon angels and demons.
Cunning folk however were usually employed in order to solve specific problems, such as missing property, or malevolent witchcraft.
With an East Anglian tradition of cunning folk in my area, I decided that gave me licence to have a go at some millennial magic.
Two of the practices which proved popular against witches were voodoo dolls, and witches’ bottles. I felt a bit funny about voodoo, so I opted with the more friendly sounding witches bottle.
If a witch had placed a curse on your home, your local cunning folk would help you create a witch’s bottle to capture the evil in your home. The folk would produce a bellarmine jug, which the victim was required to either urinate in, or place rosemary, red wine and pins. This would then be buried in the furthest corner of the house, or under the hearth. The purpose behind the objects was that after burial, the bottle would capture and contain the evil, the pins would impale it, the wine would drown it, and the rosemary would send it away. I’m not sure why they needed the urine sample.
Putting a modern spin on ancient problems, I moved house recently and have been having problems with the builder. Rather than read through some tedious warranty documents, I thought it would be easier to use the witch’s bottle to sort out permeated outer walls and safety glass guarantees, and also perhaps throw in a tiny bit of a curse.
I made a crude jug from a pack of air drying terracotta, which it turns out is very difficult to shape, and carved the building faults I want to resolve into the sides, then slapped some black paint on it, to draw the badness in. I then added the red wine, some rosemary and some wood screws (no pins available), opting out on the urine. I live in a flat which doesn’t have a hearth, so I settled for burying the bottle in a pot in the corner of my balcony.
As of the time of writing, there hasn’t been any change in the outer membrane of the house, and I can’t say if the builder has suffered any sudden misfortune, but it’s early days and I remain hopeful.”
“A short film inspired by the various portraits Alice Neel painted of babies and young children that reveal an unsentimental image of motherhood. Quite Normal was likewise inspired by the experiences of my own mother, whose teeth my brother and I stole as babies. Sorry about that, mum!
“Replacing the objects in Alice Neel’s “Doll and Apples” 1932; I’m referencing two contemporary issues: COVID 19 and human damage to the natural world (under subheading ‘Victims of Circumstance’)….scattered like (tea) leaves on the page…and thus looking into an uncertain future.” “Plastic Soldier with Woodcock Wings”. Charcoal and Graphite on Fabriano.
“Strangely, I’ve actually been thinking about Alice Neel a lot lately. I’ve been meaning to watch the doc on her life and work for about a month, and so when this kick-about prompt showed up, I jumped at the chance.
I don’t want to say too much about my piece apart from I hope it expresses something of Neel’s own work. In these recent lockdown months, I’ve been surrounded by people battling deep crisis. This painting is about a singular evening during the lockdown when some of those crises boiled over.”
Watch Jordan paint live at twitch.tv/jordan_buckner
‘On discovering Neel’s painting embodies a personal, traumatic experience, I have explored the themes of motherhood and loss.’ 3D Sketch – logs, saw dust, chewing gum, tights, 126 x 98 x 40cm
“Alice Neel’s doll painting reminded me of my dad’s basement, where I would spend a lot of time as a young lad with my cousins making up scary stories in the dark…”
“I wanted to approach Alice Neel’s painting in a different way than I had done previously. The inspiration for this 3-D collage came when I was cleaning out some papers and came upon the paper insert for the Evanescence cd “Fallen”. The cover photo of Amy Lee seemed to echo the face of the doll Neel had painted.This was music my younger daughter played over and over in her adolescence, and it was fun to go to YouTube and pull up the songs. I still like them. Maybe I even like them more now. Amy’s voice is a force, and she can be way over the top. But the gothic flavor of the music seemed also apt to the painting.
I think Neel is addressing her struggle as a woman, a mother, an artist, a person constrained by family and cultural circumstances. She lost her oldest child to her husband’s family who considered her an unsuitable mother. The life she chose was not easy, but she never gave up her need and her right to make her art. Must a woman be only a virgin mother or a childless whore? And why should gender determine who we are or what we can be at all?“
upon my end I shall begin–
I’m going under
I’ve been sleeping a thousand years it seems
without a thought without a voice without a soul
the truth drives me into madness,
my spirit sleeping somewhere cold
no one’s there–
never was and never will be
save me from the nothing I’ve become,
return to me salvation
maybe I’ll wake up for once,
fallen angels at my feet
let me stay,
bow down and stare in wonder
I know who you are–
the goddess of imaginary light
“Whereas the artist Alice Neel had a rather sad life with the loss of her two daughters, I have decided to reflect on the symbols of my very happy creative life, and also that of my great aunt. She too was called Alice and was the 5th of 7 children, born 9 years before Alice Neel in 1891. Her father died when she was about four and somehow the family survived in a male-dominated society through two world wars.
What do myself and great aunt Alice have in common? Well, we both love to make things. She was a milliner and I have inherited her milliner’s block – a strong solid oak symbol of stubborn perseverance if ever there was one! I decided to try and make a hat on it. I attached lots of my crochet pieces I’ve made over the years. These are in the style of Irish crochet, where lots of motifs are joined together. Irish crochet began in the famine years of the 1840s and became a symbol of life and hope for the Irish people, especially women, to help make ends meet. Hats off to you Aunt Alice!”
TJ and Jo Norman
“Through collaboration, we fuse sculpture with animation, exploring theatrical aspects of using characters and stories, in conjunction with symbolic real-world materials. This quick turnaround piece plays with Neel’s imagery and themes; apples, dolls, loss and rebirth.”
www.tjnartists.com / #tjnartists
“When I first looked at Alice Neel’s “Symbols”, it struck me how crushed, how hopeless the figure seems. Yet her make-up is intact and immaculate. It got me thinking about why women wear make-up and what impels us to literally put a “good face” on things, even when things are anything but good. While I was musing, I was experimenting with some freestyle crochet and the following is the outcome of both musings and experiment.”
“As I was working on the face, I was struck by how the reverse told it’s own story. In particular the finished eyes are those of a woman on the edge. On the reverse, they look scratched out…“
“Looking at the source image I felt quite disturbed, which fitted very nicely with my current interest in Absurdity and a recent reading of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. I proceeded to layer both domestic and made elements from around my home in order to create a sort of cross section of where I am at. All topped off with, and I think you will all agree, a very lovely frame from Wilko.”
Many thanks to kick-abouter, Francesca Maxwell for our brand-new prompt, which takes its title from the book by Rebecca Solnit. See below for our new jumping-off point and submission date. Have fun and see you all again on the other side and get in touch if you’ve enjoyed the showcase and fancy a run-around too. Whatever it is you’re doing creatively, there’s room for you here.