Masking tape and spray paint figure prominently in Elizabeth Neel's new abstract paintings, on view at Sikkema Jenkins through May 22. Formerly represented by Deitch where she had a solo in 2008, Neel discusses abstraction, subject matter, and learning to paint with her grandmother in a recent conversation with filmmaker and family friend Michael Auder at Interview.
MICHEL AUDER: You’ve been painting since ’95 or something like that, right?
NEEL: Well, I started fooling around with it when I was little, with Alice. That was the beginning, when she gave me that Winsor & Newton paint box. That was the “big, fancy gift.” Then I stopped for all of high school and college.
AUDER: How old were you when she gave you that gift?
NEEL: She died when I was 9, so I must have been 7 or 8 . . . something like that. It’s really hard to use oil paints, actually. I would sit next to her when she would set up her things, and I’d set up mine, too.
AUDER: Do you still have some of those early paintings?
NEEL: Yes. I’m sure Mom and Dad do. Everything’s always piled up under something.
NEEL: But I didn’t think of being an artist until after I went away to boarding school. There were other things to be interested in. And it seemed like a nightmare. I mean, look at Alice’s life. From the outside, from a child’s perspective . . . Dad used to joke about artists eating dog food for dinner and stuff.
AUDER: So the information you collected as a child about your dad’s mother, it was a certain hard kind of life?
AUDER: Dog food by choice. [laughs] Weren’t you going to be a lawyer?
NEEL: That came as the moment of truth. I had studied history at Brown and didn’t feel like doing anything with it. What does one do with a history degree besides become a historian? And the professors in school, it seemed like they were just writing books for other professors to comment on, and vice versa—it was the most self-referential, boring world you could ever imagine. Out of concern, my parents thought I should go to law school. “You’re analytical. You’re articulate.” I thought, Why not? I studied for my LSATs and got into the room to take the test. I looked around and was like, “Fuck this. There’s just no way.” Instead I told my parents about this little school in Boston known as The Museum School that basically had no requirements. I said I was going to go there for a summer program. Of course, my parents were very generous to even consider the idea, but Dad really couldn’t say no because his entire cultural existence had been about the art world....
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