NEW YORK — Painter and sketch artist LeRoy Neiman, best known for evoking the kinetic energy of the world’s biggest sporting and leisure events with bright quick strokes, died Wednesday at age 91.
Neiman was the official painter of five Olympiads and was a contributing artist at Playboy magazine for many years. His longtime publicist, Gail Parenteau, confirmed his death at a Manhattan hospital on Wednesday but didn’t disclose the cause.
Neiman was a media-savvy artist who knew how to enthrall audiences with his instant renditions of what he observed. In 1972, he sketched the world chess tournament between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer in Reykjavik, Iceland, for a live television audience. He also produced live drawings of the Olympics for TV and was the official computer artist of the Super Bowl for CBS.
Neiman’s “reportage of history and the passing scene ... revived an almost lost and time-honored art form,” according to a 1972 exhibit catalog of his Olympics sketches at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
“It’s been fun. I’ve had a lucky life,” Neiman said in a June 2008 interview with The Associated Press. “I’ve zeroed in on what you would call action and excellence. ... Everybody who does anything to try to succeed has to give the best of themselves, and art has made me pull the best out of myself.”
Neiman’s paintings, many executed in household enamel paints that allowed him fast-moving strokes, are an explosion in reds, blues, pinks, greens and yellows of pure kinetic energy.
He has been described as an American impressionist, but the St. Paul, Minn., native preferred to think of himself simply as an American artist.
“I don’t know if I’m an impressionist or an expressionist,” he told the AP. “You can call me an American first. ... (but) I’ve been labeled doing neimanism, so that’s what it is, I guess.”
He worked in many media, producing thousands of etchings, lithographs and silkscreen prints.
But Neiman’s critics said his forays into the commercial world minimized him as a serious artist. At Playboy, for example, he created Femlin, the well-endowed nude that has graced the magazine’s Party Jokes page since 1957.
Neiman shrugged off such criticism.
“I can easily ignore my detractors and feel the people who respond favorably,” he said.
Neiman was fascinated with large animals and said he twice traveled to Kenya to paint lions and elephants “in the bush” in his trademark vibrant palette.
But it was the essence of a basketball or football game, swim meet or cycling event that captured his imagination most.
“For an artist, watching a (Joe) Namath throw a football or a Willie Mays hit a baseball is an experience far more overpowering than painting a beautiful woman or leading political figure,” Neiman said in 1972.
Neiman is survived by his wife of 55 years, Janet Byrne Neiman.