LeRoy Neiman: Boxing, Art, and Life

By Robert Ecksel on June 21, 2012
LeRoy Neiman: Boxing, Art, and Life
Neiman’s modesty, his humility, was part of what made him such an appealing character


LeRoy Neiman, the world-renowned artist best known for his candy-colored paintings of sporting events, passed away yesterday in Manhattan at the age of 91.

A hugely successful commercial artist who embraced modern art techniques, his impasto works were a combination of impressionism and action painting married to an American taste for naiveté.

Neiman’s gaudy oeuvre included, but wasn’t limited to, boxing, the Olympics, horse races and the Super Bowl, and he was a welcoming presence at most of the major fights.

Having spent time with Neiman discussing art, modern and otherwise, he was as aware of his limitations as he was aware of his luck. He understood, while many others did not, that his was a middling talent, and he would no sooner compare himself to the greats of art history than he would compare himself to the greats of the squared circle.

Neiman’s modesty, his humility, his unrelenting honesty about his gifts and limitations, was part of what made him such an appealing character.

Like Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth, favorites among a certain homespun breed of collector, Neiman’s work was precociously middlebrow. He didn’t strive to break new ground—not everyone does—but counted his blessings as he counted his cash. But in keeping with his refined disposition, he’d be the last person to run anyone’s nose in anything.

“Maybe the critics are right,” he told American Artist magazine in 1995. “But what am I supposed to do about it—stop painting, change my work completely? I go back into the studio, and there I am at the easel again. I enjoy what I’m doing and feel good working. Other thoughts are just crowded out.”

Living in a time and place where celebrity is the coin of the realm, often at the expense of quality, Neiman made the most of his opportunities and produced work at an alarming rate. Some of his paintings were better than others, yet many had a slapdash, production line quality that diminished their value if not their worth.

But those who knew the artist knew how very gracious and elegant he was. He could have been an egotistical brat had he so chosen and no one would have thought it odd (thinking it undignified is another matter). But that’s not who LeRoy Neiman was.

He understood his work, himself, and where he stood relative to the art that preceded and followed his.

All men, whatever their chosen professional, should be so aware.

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  1. mikecasey 05:07am, 06/24/2012

    He did several great covers for The Ring. Gee, I remember The Ring. It used to be a boxing magazine.

  2. The Thresher 10:37am, 06/21/2012

    He was deep and he was a cool cat. He went to art school with Bob Satterfield at the Art Institute in Chicago. Bet you didn’t know that piece of trivia.

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