Neel, Geoffrey Hendricks and Brian, 1978For my book on mothers & writers I’ve been reading and thinking about the painter Alice Neel (1900-1984). Neel was known for her portraits; she saw herself as a political painter, chronicling her time “using the people as evidence.” She was especially sympathetic to people whose individual humanity has not always been acknowledged in paint: the poor, people of color, gay and trans people. She also loved painting the signs of sexual liberation—maybe because, after years of bohemian living and unconventional mothering, she had a lot of experience in not caring what anyone thought.

To celebrate the legalization of gay marriage in the United States I thought I’d post her 1978 portrait of a couple, the artists Geoffrey Hendricks and Brian Buczak. Neel posed them at her kitchen table, Hendricks later recalled, and “brought out the bowl of bananas and avocados with a little twinkle in her eye.”