LeRoy Neiman was an influential and renowned American artist, who is remembered for his iconic and dazzling canvases of bright colored impressionistic paintings that featured public life. Neiman garnered immense commercial success and incredible fame as an innovative and modern sports artist, who employed nontraditional and unconventional methods and tools, such as pens, ink, felt-tip markers, enamel house paint and water colors, to create his own unique and distinctive style. His painting style is remembered by his larger than life personality, starch white elegant suits, a grand mustache and a mandatory cigar.
LeRoy Neiman was born on June 8, 1921, in St, Paul, Minnesota, to parents Charles Runquist, a mostly unemployed laborer, and Lydia Runquist. LeRoy traces his ancestry from Turkish and Swedish descents. His father left his family when LeRoy was very young, and his mother later remarried twice, and LeRoy was given the surnames of one of his stepfathers. Growing up in the rough neighbourhood of St. Paul, he became a street smart and bright kid who learned to look out for himself.
LeRoy attended a Roman Catholic primary school, and it was here he began to develop his earliest interest in art. He would spend his time randomly doodling and drawing pictures and tattoos for his friends. When he was in sixth grade, he entered a national art competition with a painting of a fish, and was awarded a prize. From a very early age, LeRoy began earning a small income making portraits and drawings for shopkeepers and people on the street. By the time he reached high school, he found sufficient work designing posters for sports events and school dances. In 1942, LeRoy decided to quit school, and join the US army where he was hired as a cook.
For the next four years, he served as a cook in the army, however, this did not dissuade him from making time for his artistic pursuits. Soon, his talent became known and appreciated by all in the service, and he was selected to paint the stage sets for the Red Cross shows organised by the army’s Special Services division. Upon returning from the war, LeRoy enrolled himself at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he studied on the GI Bill. It was here that he learned the skill of fashion illustration and figure drawing. LeRoy’s artistic techniques and style are inspired and influenced by the works of Leonardo da Vinci and Rubens, and he takes his inspiration from the great works of other Impressionists, post impressionists and romantic realists such as Raoul Dufy, Oskar Kokoschka, George Bellows and Kees van Dongen.
While still continuing his education, LeRoy began sketching to develop fashion ads for several magazines. However, his big break came in 1954, when Hugh Hefner offered him a job at the Playboy magazine, he accepted the offer and began his 50-year long career as a prolific and applauded pinup illustrator. He also began taking up sketching and painting assignments for several sporting events, such as boxing matches and the Super Bowls. He had the opportunity to cover the Olympics five times, and in 1980, he was named the official artist for the Winter Games, that took place in Lake Placid, N.Y., and later, in 1984, in Sarajevo Yugos.
Some of his most influential and highly acclaimed works include, ‘Resting Tiger’, ‘Resting Lion’, ‘Red Sky’, ‘Gaming Table’, ‘Portrait of the Elephant’, ‘Portrait of a Black Panther’, ‘In the Pocket’, ‘Vegas’, ‘Frank Sinatra Duets’, ‘Mike Piazza’, ‘Stretch Stampede’, and ‘Bistro Garden’, among many others.