The first things I notice about Alice Neave’s paintings are their honesty. The emotions and life experience of her subjects reach out to you from the canvas. The starkness of the images she creates reminds me of Lucian Freud’s portraits. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Freud is one of Alice’s idols. If she could paint anyone it would be him; “such a great painter” she whispers, “that or someone with a really interesting, craggy face”. Alice has always been interested in faces: at A-level she created a project “where I could just paint faces for two years”.
Alice doesn’t seek to flatter her subjects; she prefers to capture their essence. While her portraits are startlingly realistic as a whole, they retain a certain abstract quality that really brings them to life. She uses colour to convey the subject’s personality; in her portrait of her father she predominantly worked with red tones because “his new wife loves red and it’s like their colour…it means a lot to them”.
Creating commissioned pieces has challenged her working style, as she has had to meet specific requirements. Her portrait of Johnny Cash was confined to black and white so she had to work harder to capture him, however focussing only on tonal quality on such a large scale really boosted her confidence. “That was a real learning curve for me” she says. Working on a larger scale means that Alice’s portraits are now mostly confined to canvas, which she tells me is also “very good to sleep in, I learnt recently! Very warm! I bought 3 metres of it and went to a party, didn’t have any bedding…it’s just a great all round thing!” She returns to watercolours for her smaller prints but is enjoying her larger scale canvas portraits. “I still like working on little abstract prints but I think big paintings have a lot more power”.
An upcoming challenge for Alice is a commission for a portrait of a child. “It’s not because I don’t think children have character, they do. There’s just not as much to go on. It’s so much better doing older people, I don’t know why. I just think it makes a better painting, it’s a lot more interesting.” She has decided to focus more on the abstract element of her painting when she creates this particular portrait. “They grow up so fast, they’re really transient and I want to put loads of life in it and make it a bit blurry. Pictures of children can be a bit creepy if they’re just a snap shot and I want to make it a bit different.”
Alice is somewhat of a perfectionist; with one painting taking as long as 63 hours to complete. “He got completely reworked several times, it was my own fault: I kept changing it”. For Alice, a portrait begins with her subject’s nose. “Some people sketch it out beforehand but I always seem to start with the nose”. She works with a lot of layers and then keeps reworking elements until she is satisfied. “It’s amazing, you can tweak one thing and it changes the entire face”.
Coming up for Alice is a possible collaboration with an illustrator, and she would really like to put on an exhibition in the next year. Her only problem is creating enough work for this to be possible. Currently her pieces are being bought too quickly for her to build up a collection. Looking at the captivating quality of her work, I can see why.