paintings by Patrick Neal
Red Onions: oil on canvas 20"x30", 2020
I completed the painting Red Onions in May early on during the pandemic. At the time, I was on a roll working with nets, textures and mesh that covered the frontal plane of my canvases. These fields of texture took up as much space as the central subject matter of a vase, flowers or plant, and because of their abstraction, allowed for imaginative forays into art history, the universe or distant memories.
I found this netted onion bag while on a walk through industrial Long Island City, Queens and was immediately enamored by its purple plastic sheen and large, see-through appearance. In order to get out of the house and get some exercise I had taken to walking in this desolate area of my neighborhood populated with a lot of businesses, food trucks, kiosks, dumpsters and feral cats. This area of town was sparsely populated and away from the more attractive Gantry Park where many people congregated. It was a great place to social distance and go on long walks.
The still life setup for Red Onions was situated on top of a light box and hit from the side with additional lights, thus bringing out the translucent and pearlescent qualities of the synthetic strands and onion skins. I found, I didn’t need much by way of props to get excited about the interplay of shapes, colors, light and composition inherent to a few sensual materials. It was the combination of planning, collecting and envisioning a composition beforehand, juxtaposed with the discovery of something new and exciting at that last minute that brought the painting to life.
Rick (Saint Sebastian),1995
Acrylic on canvas, 96" x 36"
After graduate school, where I received an MFA in painting, I was relieved to know I had fulfilled the requirement of obtaining the degree necessary for teaching at colleges and universities. The problem was, immediately out of school, there just weren’t enough teaching jobs to go around, especially if one wanted to maintain a studio in New York City.
As the student-loan repayments began to kick in, I looked around to what resources were nearest me in order to secure a job and bring in some cash. Much of my time in art school was spent working from life models and one of my best friends happened to be the model coordinator at New York Studio School. I decided to become a life model in painting, drawing and sculpture classes and observe what it was like to be the subject of an artwork rather than the creator.
I spent much of my time modeling for a small sculpture class that worked primarily in clay to create life-size figure studies. For several months I was posed in dramatic fashion, standing upright, legs slightly apart placed firmly on the ground, with my arms raised overhead gripping a rope. The pose was suggestive of either a heroic battle figure or a slave in bondage.
During this time, I had an art studio in Manhattan’s East Village, a storefront space with large glass windows open to the street. I decided that the pose, where I spent all day Monday through Friday in suspended animation hanging from a rope, was interesting enough a subject to lend to one of my paintings. I stretched a large vertical canvas, only to find after working out the initial sketches that it wasn’t tall enough, and added an additional few feet overhead. I asked my friend Rick Whitaker [and Exquisite Pandemic's Editor], a writer who had graciously modeled for me in the past, if he would strike the same pose.
Rick happened to be wearing red underwear on the day we got started, which added a flair of drama to an already over-the-top composition. I placed a bunch of black and purple fabrics on the floor and wall to offset and background the subject and to block out an air conditioner that was in the way. After it was completed, the painting was a favorite of many people although it was never shown in public. A doctor friend of mine was interested in purchasing the piece, but his partner thought the painting was too big for their home; the decision whether or not to acquire the piece was batted around for years.
In an interesting case of life repeating itself, not too long after the painting was completed, Rick was asked to strike the same pose (or, something very similar) a second time. The late great choreographer, Stanley Love was in the middle of staging a performance and needed a model to hang naked from a rope, a central tableau on a stage encircled by dancers. I wish I had gotten to see this, but the memory lives on in my mind as a bit of downtown arts mythology.
Patrick Neal is a painter, art writer and independent curator. He recently had a one person show at The Oresman Gallery, Brown Fine Arts Center, Smith College, Northampton, MA and is a 2018 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Painting. www.patrickneal-art.com