The Hurry-Up Artist

The world according to LeRoy Neiman could be captured very efficiently.

The painting artist Neiman, famous for his bushy handlebar mustache and his ability to create art on the fly, died Wednesday in New York at age 91.

Neiman painted people in action; Neiman's art was what the world would look like if a still camera could snap impressionism.

There was no such thing as a Neiman "still life." He painted people doing something---playing poker, boxing each other, engaging on the gridiron. And he did it rapidly.

It wasn't unusual for the TV networks to commission Neiman, especially during Super Bowls, to produce "on the spot" works---the prior action as Neiman saw it. Then the cameras would show Neiman at work, producing yet another work of color, ambience and activity.

Neiman painted life like a photographer shot it, but with the editorializing that the painter gets to do, that the photographer can't. Neiman's works had the ability to capture the human condition with brush strokes instead of a lens.

Neiman, foreground, and Muhammad Ali, background, as the artist saw him

You could even call Neiman a journalist, for that's how vividly he was able to tell a story with his paints.

Sportswriter Nick Seitz, in a story at, said Neiman had "the journalistic talent, as well as the artistic ability, to convey the essence of a game or contestant with great impact, from the Kentucky Derby to Wilt Chamberlain, from the America's Cup to Muhammad Ali, from the Super Bowl to Bobby Hull."

You can thank Hugh Hefner, of all people, for hooking Neiman up with the world.

It was Hefner who hired Neiman to produce a series of paintings called "Man at His Leisure" for Playboy magazine. Neiman did it, for 15 years, beginning in the 1950s. The world took notice of the way Neiman would so succinctly and efficiently capture the essence of such iconic events as the Grand Prix in Monaco and the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

Neiman was as colorful as his paintings. The handlebar 'stache was just the tip of his iceberg.

To hear the artist tell it, the creation of Neiman was every bit as important as the creation of his art.

"I guess I created LeRoy Neiman," he once said, according to the biography on his website. "Nobody else told me how to do it. Well, I'm a believer in the theory that the artist is as important as his work."

As big as LeRoy Neiman was, however, his work is still bigger. And, obviously, it will live forever, unlike the mortal artist who created it.


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