Fans of LeRoy Neiman know his work (and his mustache) instantly. The movement, the bold colour, the palpable emotion that emulate from his works are iconic. Passing away at the age of 91 in New York on June 20th, Neiman leaves a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten by all those who cherished the man and his work.
His subjects ranged from hollywood stars like Sinatra and “Rocky”, to iconic Playboy covers, the Olympics and of course professional athletes… most say his greatest works are those which depict sports and athletes in action.
In 1968, Neiman became the un-official team artist and portrait painter for Joe Namath and the New York Jets and accompanied them on the road, churning out one stunning piece after another.
“He chronicled many of the most important moments in Jets history and his work hangs prominently throughout our team’s headquarters at Florham Park. His special relationship with the Jets will be greatly missed and our thoughts are with his family during this time.” said Jets owner Woody Johnson.
For years after he left the Jets to pursue other subjects, Neiman continued to foster a relationship with the club, even designing their holiday cards from time to time.
LeRoy was a truly unique artist, drawing from a front-line perspective when it came to sports. His sideline renditions were done in the heat of the moment and his work captured the electric charge of the crowd and emotion of the players like no other medium including photographs.
His style is tough to categorize, it has touches of impressionism but is interlaced with a more wild and gutteral surrealism and brave use of colour that is truly unique to him. He worked in a multitude of mediums from household enamels to lithographs and silk screen prints known as serigraphy. Although he loved to paint large game, his true passion was for sport.
“For an artist, watching a (Joe) Namath throw a football or a Willie Mays hit a baseball is an experience far more overpowering than painting a beautiful woman or leading political figure,” Neiman said in 1972.
His critics over the years have been harsh, accusing him of “selling out” to commercial interests. But Neiman never seemed to mind, he wanted his work to be seen and enjoyed by the public. It graced the covers of sports programs and Man at Leisure Magazine, it hung in the halls of important sports institutions like the Sports Museum of America in New York, all of which allowed people who weren’t necessarily “into” art per se to see it and appreciate it.
The man will be missed but the work lives on to be enjoyed by many generations.
“It’s been fun. I’ve had a lucky life, I’ve zeroed in on what you would call action and excellence. Everybody who does anything to try to succeed has to give the best of themselves, and art has made me pull the best out of myself.”
For more information and to view more of his work please visit leroyneiman.com.