“I was paranoid about making a standard 'biopic'. So I tried very hard to make something personal without making it trite or puerile like so many films that one could place in this burgeoning genre. One might call it the " 'family-cam' artist biopic" genre.” Andrew Neel explores the private background and the social and art-historical circumstances under which the oeuvre of his grandmother, the American portrait painter Alice Neel (1900-1984), originated. She reinvented the genre of portraiture by expressing the inner landscape of her varied sitters, among them Andy Warhol, Annie Sprinkle, Bella Abzug, and Allen Ginsberg. Painting a diverse cross-section of humanity, from Communist Party leaders and art world personalities to her neighbours in Spanish Harlem, Neel created a body of work that serves as a social document of New York and America in the 20th Century. Andrew Neel succeeds in the difficult task of portraying a great portraitist.
The film follows Alice Neel’s life, beginning in the 20s at the “Philadelphia School of Design for Women” up to her poor artistic life in post-war New York and shows the turning point in her existence as an artist: she becomes a symbol of the women’s movement and the “Whitney Museum of American Art” presents a retrospective of her work (1974). “I managed to do it at great cost to myself and perhaps to others. It is hard to go against the tide of one's time, milieu and position. But at least I tried to reflect innocently the twentieth century and my feelings and perceptions as a girl and a woman.” (Alice Neel)