I remember watching Leroy Neiman create his paintings on live TV for the Munich Olympics in 1972. No wait. I can’t be that old. I remember my parents telling me about it years later. Yea, that’s it – I just heard about it.
Anyway he could sketch very quickly. So it was like having the old Fred Flintstone camera at the Olympics. You know the one where Wilma takes a photo and then the scene cuts to the inside of the camera and there’s a bird in there chiseling the picture into a stone slab with its beak and the bird shrugs and says, “Meh, it’s a living.”
Here’s Leroy on TV whacking out these paintings of the events as they happen. They’d go away to commercial and when they came back, bam, a painting.
I haven’t thought about ‘ol Leroy in a long time. Not until the David Owsley Museum of Art opened an exhibition of his paintings and drawings. The exhibition will run through December 22nd so get over there to see it if you can. Especially get over there if you’re a sports fan. Much of Neiman’s work focused on sporting events and sports figures. From the Olympics to Broadway Joe Namath to horse racing, to the World Series, he covered it all.
I wasn’t impressed with Neiman’s style when I first saw it, but I was a kid, what did I know? I have a greater appreciation for it nowadays. I can see a parallel between the way he worked and Sumi-e painting. In Sumi-e the artist studies the subject until they know it inside and out and each painting is visualized before any ink touches the paper. Once started, the painting is completed all at once with bold strokes. There’s no going back – no retouching – no eraser. The painting is what it is.
Also like Sumi-e, Neiman’s works are not hyper-realistic. They suggest the scene. They capture the spirit and the movement not the practical details. The details are left up to the viewer.
A detailed photograph of Joe Montana throwing a pass makes me think of the event. It’s static. I understand that on such and such date this happened. When I see Neiman’s sketchy, brightly colored, swooshy (there’s an art term for ya) image of Joe Montana getting ready to throw a pass, it takes me there. It brings up visions in my head of Sunday afternoons watching football with my father. I see the action as if it’s taking place right now.
Hey, the museum even has a sofa and TV setup in the exhibit so you can sit and watch clips from some of the events that Neiman painted. Kick back and experience all those events that, like me, you were too young at the time to see live.
Sorry no nachos allowed.