On a recent visit to San Francisco I was thrilled to happen upon several LeRoy Neiman galleries. Seeing his mischievous face and vibrant, entertaining work prompted me to do a little reading about him.
"Buena Vista Bar", a San Francisco establishment and home to the first Irish Coffee
Among the works we saw in the Neiman Gallery was a series of his original illustrations for Playboy. While these were a bit scandalous, I was interested to read that he and Hugh Hefner have been great friends from the start of the infamous magazine and Neiman continues to illustrate for Playboy to this day.
Neiman is probably best known for his colorful paintings of leisure activities and sporting events, and while I liked those, I really loved his depictions of animals and his portraits of famous people.
"Polo Lounge", the famed Beverly Hills Hotel hangout.
I was especially excited when I learned that Neiman loves elephants (as I do) and calls them his "inexhaustable theme".
"Charging Bull" - his latest elephant serigraph (screen print)
"Portrait of the Elephant"
Born in 1921, Neiman comes from a humble beginning in St. Paul, Minnesota, and from an early age he distiniguished himself by drawing. He later enlisted in the Army and served for four years. During that time, according to his biography, he "painted sexually suggestive murals in military kitchens and dining halls that reportedly generated enthusiastic responses from women as well as men. He also painted stage sets for Red Cross shows under the auspices of the army's Special Services division. "If nothing else, the army completely confirmed me as an artist, " he wrote in his book LeRoy Neiman: Art and Life Style (1974). After his time in the Army was up, Neiman returned to finish school. He later taught for 10 years at the Chicago Institute of Art, and during that time is when he met Hefner.
Most of his work focuses on sporting events and sports in general. "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 remarked to Nick Seitz in 1972. He also told Seitz, "Concentrating on sports has helped me, because I couldn't refer back to past movements. There hasn't been any sports art to speak of.. . . I've had the field pretty much to myself."
Today, Neiman and his wife live in the famed Hotel des Artistes (home to Norman Rockwell at one point), looking over Central Park.
All photos from The Official LeRoy Neiman Website