Who was LeRoy Neiman? If you asked a young person today, in all likelihood they would not have a clue. It would be like asking them a complicated trigonometry question or what are the capitols of all fifty states. It is a different world, to say the least. Today, getting a young person interested in fine art could be a bit of a stretch anyway. LeRoy, however, knew who he was.
Born into a dysfunctional, absentee-father family in the early part of the twentieth century, Neiman was a scrappy, defiant, but curious and talented young man who had a knack for getting into places and situations that most of us would not attempt. Growing up during the depression he found ways to develop connections with influential people. He had a gift for gab and story-telling and could sell himself to others. Later, these gifts helped sharpen his writing skills and further enhance his career.
He served in World War II and was soon recognized for his artistic talents when the Red Cross invited him to create promotional posters. He attended the St. Paul School of Art (Minnesota) and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He hooked up with Hugh Hefner of Playboy Magazine and produced artwork for the magazine in several capacities. Neiman and Hefner had a much-publicized working relationship that caused consternation for many fellow artists and business people, and this may have caused him some decrease in popularity and success over the years. However, Neiman had many irons in the fire and was constantly on the move, so one controversy or another did not restrain him, for he was an ambitious artisan, business man, and traveler.
Neiman was a jet-setter early on and hobnobbed with whomever seemed influential or had credentials. His artistic talent and personality endeared him to others. He created an ego nurturing environment that others wanted to be a part of and this enticed many socially prominent individuals. It seemed he was acculturating the cultured. He heightened their egos and self-satisfaction in their own successes. He had a cool dynamic going!
Great financiers, singers, athletes, both amateur and professional, sports heroes, political heads, movie stars, and community leaders were his captive audience and participators. However, Neiman captured the gritty everyday down-to-earth person in his art. He traveled widely to discover the common man in everyday situations. He was considered an artist of the people, though his most notable works were of the famous. Sporting events in all levels of competition were his favorite subjects.
Neiman is one of the greatest American artists of all time and is America’s first Sports Artist. He was a master of form and content with a command of colors that attracted viewers from all walks of life. His use of color was such that looking at a piece of his art from different distances gave different meanings and suggestions. He definitely was one of a kind, just as were his associates—e.g., Hefner, Dali, M. Ali, Howard Cosell, Roone Arledge, Andy Warhol, Frank Sinatra, etc.
Neiman's art is prominent in museums worldwide and private collections of notoriety. He is listed in just about every significant Who’s Who book in America and has contributed to the endowments of several art colleges in the country. Neiman’s finest original works are worth tens of thousands of dollars and any signed piece of work, whether a poster, print, lithograph, oil, watercolor, or sculpture is highly valued.
Neiman died at the age of 91 in 2012. What an influence he has had on the sports world and Sports Art. However, LeRoy Neiman missed out witnessing the current explosion of young sports artists and being a part of their influence on the world. Hail Mr. Neiman.
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