LeRoy Neiman: Artist whose brash style was perfect for the sports subjects he loved to paint

LeRoy Neiman was an artist whose paintings are immediately recognisable for their dynamic subjects and brash primary colours, often executed in household enamel paint.

His pictures captured the essence and movement of sports personalities, film stars and jazz musicians. With a signature black handlebar moustache and slicked-back hair he presented a flamboyant Daliesque character, ever conscious of the artistic persona he had created for himself and of those whom he depicted. "When I paint, Iseriously consider the public presence of a person - the surface façade," he wrote. "I am less concerned with how people look when they wake up or how they act at home. A person's public presence reflects his own efforts at image development."

Neiman was born in St Paul, Minnesota, in 1921. When his father, a railway worker of Swedish descent, left home, he took on the name of his stepfather. As a teenager he designed signage for grocery stores, sketched portraits of the store owners and made tattoos of Popeye and Mickey Mouse for his classmates. In 1942 he joined the US Army as a cook, seeing wartime service in Europe and painting stage sets used in Red Cross theatrical productions for the troops. "If nothing else, the army completely confirmed me as an artist," he wrote in LeRoy Neiman: Art and Life Style (1974).

During a decade of studying and teaching at the Art Insititute of Chicago, a series of chance happenings in the early 1950s would shape the rest of his career. The first was a dramatic alteration in his painting style. "The big shock of my life was Abstract Expressionism – Pollock, de Kooning, those guys," he said. "It changed my work. I was an academically trained student, and suddenly you could pour paint, smear it on, broom it on!"

It was in 1953 that he discovered his trademark material, enamel house paint. A caretaker at a neighbouring apartment block had discarded several cans which still contained paint. Neiman set to using them in hiscreations. The same year saw soloshows in Illinois and the acquisitionby the Minneapolis Institute of Arts of one of his works, his first sale to a musuem. "That was when I hit my stride," he later recalled.

A year later Neiman met Hugh Hefner, whose new Playboy magazine had débuted a few months before. Early commissions for Playboy, to accompany individual articles, soon became a regular stint. He created the cartoon character Femlin, a portmanteau of female and gremlin, for the magazine's "Party Jokes" page. This was followed in 1958 by the beginning of the regular "Man at his Leisure" feature, for which Neiman created sketches and text over the next 15 years.

From the 1960s onwards the majority of Neiman's paintings focused on sport. This became formalised in 1972 when he became official painter for the Munich Olympiad, a position he would continue to hold up to the Los Angeles games in 1984. Muhammad Ali commented, "It was not unusual for me to look up from a work-out or a sparring session to see LeRoy perched on a chair, off to the side, studying my movements while sketching in quick strokes."

Neiman described the inspiration he derived from sport as "all colour and movement, a world of numbers, flags and geometric surfaces. It is a universe of green, from the gaming tables to the gridiron." In the catalogue of an exhibition of his Olympic-themed work, a critic noted: "Before the camera, such reportage of history and the passing scene was one of the most important functions of painters and draftsmen of all sorts. Mr Neiman has revived an almost lost and time-honoured art form."

It was not only team and field sports that attracted his attention. In 1972 he sketched the world chess tournament between the grandmasters Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer in Reykjavik, live on television.

Over the last 20 years the artist had seen continued success in the marketplace for his paintings and prints. His painting Le Mans (1969) made $107,550 at Christie's in 2003, a record for his work. His commercial methods were to influence other artists, such as Andy Warhol, who, upon hearing of the roaring sales of the artist's prints in the '60s, remarked, "I want to be successful like LeRoy Neiman."

In 1996 Neiman gave $6 million for the founding of the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies at Columbia University. His autobiography All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies and Provocateurs was published this month. In an interview with the Associated Press in 2008 he said: "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."

LeRoy Neiman, artist: born St Paul, Minnesota 8 June 1921; married 1957 Janet Byrne; died Manhattan 20 June 2012.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam