James Farmer
Average: 5 (3 votes)
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Alice Neel’s portraits are nothing if not real.

She shocked people with her nude 75-year-old self-portrait, then again with a corseted portrait of Andy Warhol depicting him after he was injured in an attempted assassination, and then again with her multi-penis’d Joe Gould.

Living in the Upper East Side and Harlem for 46 years, from 1938-1984, Neel spent a lot of time painting portraits of her neighbors in post-World-War-II New York. She depicted a diverse range of people in her area, especially in Spanish Harlem. She stuck true to her goal as a painter, which was to “paint [her] time using the people in it,” and the result was that she was one of the earliest white painters to consistently represent humans diversely. Author Hilton Als described her portraits as “diversity not calling attention to itself.” Or, in other words, she appreciated individual people as individual people and worked to capture their essence in her portraits. As she accumulated fame, she ended up painting a slew of famous people including Joseph Papp, Kate Millet, Marisol Escobar, Andy Warhol, Linus Pauling, and the depicted human rights activist James Farmer.

James Farmer founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942 in Chicago, and based CORE principles on the non-violent protests of Mahatma Gandhi. CORE primarily protested public accommodation discrimination through mass sit-ins. At the time of this portrait, in 1964, James Farmer had been organizing Freedom Rides, a planned effort to end segregation on buses, trains, and waiting rooms. Sadly, three CORE members had been murdered in 1964 in Mississippi. Neel did her best to portray Farmer as “full of anger” in this portrait. Farmer was considered one of the Big Six in the Civil Rights movement and worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. In 1963. When Louisiana State Troopers were knocking on doors looking for him on charges of “organizing protests,” he famously pulled the badass move of faking his own death, a funeral home director smuggling his living body out of town in a hearse.




  1. "Alice Neel's Uptown by Zack Hatfield - BOMB Magazine." Amy Hempel - BOMB Magazine. Accessed November 30, 2018.
  2. Als, Hilton. "The Inclusive Humanity of Alice Neel's Paintings." The New Yorker. June 19, 2017. Accessed November 30, 2018.
  3. Farago, Jason. "Alice Neel's Love of Harlem and the Neighbors She Painted There." The New York Times. February 23, 2017. Accessed November 30, 2018.
  4. "James Farmer." From the Collection: Pocahontas. Accessed November 30, 2018.
  5. Viveros-Fauné, Christian. "Alice Neel's Uptown Show Packs a Powerful Message." Artnet News. February 27, 2017. Accessed November 30, 2018.