LeRoy Neiman

2 minute read
Nate Rawlings

“The people that love my paintings … they’re spectators, not viewers,” LeRoy Neiman once said. “They look at it for the experience and the re-experience for themselves.” Those spectators, drawn to Neiman’s kinetically colored renderings of sporting events, from the Olympics to heavyweight title fights, helped make him one of the most popular American artists of the past 50 years. Neiman, who died June 20 at 91, was the artist-in-residence for the 1969 Super Bowl–winning New York Jets, sketched the 1972 world chess tournament on live television and drew Muhammad Ali so many times that the two collaborated on a book.

After serving as a U.S. Army cook in Europe in World War II (he also drew posters warning about venereal disease), Neiman moved to Chicago and became friends with Hugh Hefner. For half a century, he contributed to Playboy magazine, creating the Femlin, a curvaceous cartoon siren who wore only thigh-high stockings, high heels and opera gloves. For Playboy’s “Man at His Leisure” feature, he traveled the world, painting in exotic locations. But the most enduring image of Neiman was in a studio or on a sideline, mustache waxed past the edges of his cheeks, foot-long cigar in his mouth, making paintings guaranteed to be panned by critics, when they noticed them at all, even as they sometimes sold for small fortunes.

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