ART TO LIFE AWARD 2009 LeRoy Neiman
Neiman has cited as especially influential in his development as an artist the work of Leonardo da Vinci and Rubens, “for spirit”; Tintoretto, “for space”; and Fragonard, “for feel.” Others include various Romantic realists, impressionists, post-impressionists, and fauvists; the French master of
light and color Raoul Dufy; the Eastern European expressionists Kees van Dongen and Oskar Kokoschka; George Bellows and other members of the Ashcan School; and the abstract expressionists, especially Jackson Pollock and other practitioners of action painting, in which paint is applied directly by such means as splattering and dribbling.
“I sketch all the time,” Neiman said recently, speaking from his studio in the Hotel des Artistes, a landmark New York City building across the street from one of his favorite places, Central Park. In the same building he maintains an office, a penthouse pied-à-terre, and an apartment that he shares with his wife, the former Janet Byrne. To Neiman, a sketch is “a record—something to consult with” when planning a larger work. “I do about two dozen paintings a year,” he explains.
While a few of his works measure less than two feet by three feet, many are much bigger, including his most recent accomplishment, LeRoy Neiman’s Big Band, a 9’ by 13’ painting depicting eighteen hall of fame jazz musicians like Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday. “Louis Armstrong was a friend and a nice, good man. He always said that jazz was a working man’s profession, as is art, which I agree with. I always felt a connection with the jazz guys,” Neiman says. The painting will have a West Coast unveiling on February 17, 2009 at Los Angeles’ Skirball Cultural Center.
“It’s one of the major pieces of my career,” Neiman says. “This is the largest easel painting I’ve ever done. It has every jazz musician I ever thought was really great. I’m kind of proud of it; I think it’s one of my best works.” As he does with all of his works, Neiman gave birth to Big Band after a long process of gestation. “I got started on it when I met Wynton Marsalis, who was always inviting me to come to his rehearsals over at Lincoln Center,” Neiman explains. Neiman would spend days watching Marsalis’ eighteen-piece band work their magic while he, in turn, worked his own, sketching the musicians creating their sounds. Before long, the sketches blossomed into a larger, singular work.