The feminist painter Juanita McNeely passed away. Her large-scale, visceral works were mostly influenced by her personal struggles. Her death was announced by James Fuentes Gallery, with whom she had been associated since 2020. She was eighty-seven years old. Despite having devoted her entire life to painting, her career had just recently started to take off and she was beginning to receive institutional support.
In 1936, McNeely was born in St. Louis. She developed a passion and ambition for painting at an early age, and for her oil painting at the age of 15, she won a merit scholarship. Her family supported her endeavor and converted their garage into a studio. However, this was also the period that McNeely experienced her first health issues. In an essay published in Woman’s Art Journal in 2011, artist Sharyn M. Finnegan described McNeely’s experience as “a terrifying case of excessive bleeding,” one that left her missing a whole year of high school. She would later use images of bleeding women as recurring themes in her artwork.
McNeely attended the St. Louis School of Fine Arts at Washington University, and it was during her college years that she had the second major medical trauma of her life—a cancer diagnosis that carried with it the prognosis of only three-to-six months to live. When her doctor suggested she spend the time doing whatever made her happy, she decided to remain enrolled in art school. In an interview for Finnegan’s 2011 essay, McNeely remarked that this moment “was the beginning of what really formed me as someone who spoke about the things that are not necessarily pleasant, on canvas, things that perhaps most people even feel uncomfortable about looking at, much less talking about”.
A survivor of cancer and an illegal abortion, McNeely channelled her experiences into very personal work