“For me, people come first,” Neel declared in 1950. “I have tried to assert the dignity and eternal importance of the human being.” In keeping with the ethical foundations of humanism, Neel dedicated herself to painting what she called “pictures of people,” finding the term “portraits” to be elitist. Born into a white middle-class family, she challenged assumptions as to what a woman of her race and class should paint. The artist focused especially on individuals who had experienced injustice as a result of sexism, racism, and capitalism, as well as those who combatted it.
This exhibition positions Neel as one of the century’s most radical painters, a champion of social justice whose long-standing commitment to humanist principles inspired her life as well as her art. Drawing on Neel’s activism and the kind of spontaneous hand-lettering that is produced for protests, the title was typeset in Sunset Gothic, a painterly sans-serif with expressive and humanistic qualities. The title and subtitle are set at the same scale, establishing a non-hierarchical relationship between the artist and her sitters. The title also includes an underline which references the signature blue contour outline, a defining stylistic feature within Neel’s body of work.