Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Leroy Neiman

Back the days when The Leopard worked at a certain well-known non profit jazz institution in New York, I had limited authority to hire illustrators and designers I always dreamed of working with. One was the great caricaturist Al Hirshfeld, whom I’ve written about before. The other was Leroy Neiman. Neiman is a polarizing character, straddling the line between illustrator and fine artist.
In the museum world, he was barely taken seriously because of his illustration background and his association with the iconic pub Playboy Magazine (he created the little nymphet on the Party Jokes pages) and his desire to live the Playboy lifestyle.

Also his hyper-colored painting struck some as garish and unsophisticated although his draftsmanship and the immediacy of his brushwork was loved by many - his paintings sold routinely for $100,000 and up.

I once visited him in the early 2000s to discuss the possible commission of a large jazz mural in his pristine studio on upper west side. He was incredibly gracious and friendly, happily displaying his latest work. I’ll never forget a wonderful piece of advice he gave me: I timidly showed him some of my work on some postcards I brought and asked him what he thought or if he had any suggestions. After a few seconds, he said, “No, you know what you’re doing.” Then he flipped the card over. “But don’t call yourself and illustrator. Call yourself an artist”. The extravagantly mustachioed Mr. Neiman passed away a virile 91. 

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