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10 March 2017
Alice Neel’s 1935 portrait of Paul Whalen is a feature of the current London exhibition. The painting has been described here: ‘Alice Neel’s passionate interest in left-wing politics is evident in her portrayal of Communist activist and union organizer Pat Whalen, whom she painted when she was involved with the WPA, part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Whalen is portrayed as the archetypal blue-collar worker. He looks up from a copy of the Daily Worker(the official newspaper of the US communist party), his fists clenched in an expression of resolve and determination. Hallmarks of the artist’s personal style are abundantly evident: the use of flat, unmixed color, the expressive brushstroke, and particular care with the features of the sitter’s face and hands that convey a deeper psychology. Alice Neel once observed, “people are the greatest and profoundest key to an era.” Here, honing in on a single subject, she articulates the intensity of a struggle that affected millions of Americans in the 1930s and beyond: the struggle for worker’s rights.’
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