The commercial artist LeRoy Neiman, who produced work for five Olympics has died age 91. He was one of the most prolific and well respected sports painter of all times. Neiman was regarded for his colour and impasto which went hand and hand with his action portrayal of athletes. He was a regular presence at many major sporting events, including the Super Bowl and the Olympics.
A cross between an Abstract Expressionist and Norman Rockwell, Neiman created popular works of art highlighting sports and other activities such as horse racing and Formula one racing.His highly colorful style blended with broad expressive brush strokes made him one of the most sought after artists catering to the world of art in offices.
Neiman’s art career took off when Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy Magazine chose the commercial artist’s work and was impressed. Neiman started creating art for the publication in the 1950s in Chicago.
He moved to New York, after an extended period in Paris. Having had his first New York show in the 1960’s and eventually settled on painting sporting events, as his main subject. His paintings and popular prints focused on the major American sports, like Football, baseball and basketball.
In the 60’s and 70’s his exhibitions were sell outs with clients queuing up to purchase paintings drawings and lithographs. His prints sold between £100 -£500 prompting Andy Warhol to ironically state. “I want to be successful like LeRoy Neiman”. Neiman hung out with Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath, Reggie Jackson, Sonny Liston and Jack Nicklaus. He attended and recorded every sporting event of any significance in the second half of the last century, including the fabulous Ali-Frazier fight in 1971. He immortalized and glamorized boxing events in his inimitable way.
Neiman served as an artist for five Olympic Games, starting in 1972 in Munich and ending in 1984 in Los Angeles. He was a television personality much like Rolf Harris in the UK creating instant sketches of sporting events in watercolour, inks and acrylic paint.
Neiman was familiar with today’s post-skill artists such as Damien Hirst. He was not overly impressed. “Artists have been doing nasty stuff for decades. He eagerly attended the Sensation show at the Brooklyn Museum. “It wasn’t much of a shock. The big shock of my life was Abstract Expressionism–Pollock, de Kooning, those guys. It changed my work. I was an academically trained student, and suddenly you could pour paint, smear it on, broom it on!” And lo, just as the screech of John Coltrane electrified the arty world, LeRoy’s palette knife turned into a ginsu and the dynamic signature Neiman style was born.
The cause of his death is not known.