Over the Influence is honored to present Working Lunch bringing together 32 of LeRoy Neiman’s dynamic drawings he made in transit. Working Lunch will be on view from February 14 through March 31stwith a reception on February 16 from 11 am –6 pm.
Neiman was known to make work on the sidelines of a football field or in a dugout, pen, and pad in hand, or spread out at the steakhouse in a corner booth, sketching the menu, the waitress, the salt and pepper shakers, the general ambiance of the evening. LeRoy Neiman (1921-2012) was a prolific painter and illustrator of the 20thcentury, best recognized for his brightly adorned work for casinos, restaurants, and countless other commercial ventures. He made a name for himself with illustrative magazine work, namely for the fashionable articles that graced the pages of on-trend publications of the era like Harpers and Playboy. He was a 5-time artist in residence for the Olympics. He spoke on television. Neiman embodied the concept of artist as public figure decades before that became de rigueur.
He carried notebooks with him throughout his life and was an obsessive documentarian. He continually made drawings wherever he was, even if he didn’t have a notebook on hand. In these instances, he might grab paper or any sort of canvas from his immediate environment, drawing on tablecloths, menus, scorecards, playbills, and the like. The delightful pieces included in this exhibition represent a small portion of where he was, who he was with, and the goings-on of the moment. These works are, in a sense, a document of these junctures in time.
Neiman’s drawings place both the artist and the viewer in specific milieu, transporting one back in time to disparate geographies and locale sat once typical, extraordinary, and offbeat. These works, further, seem to track Neiman throughout his life, artifacts and mementos that today represent not only his prolific output but his daily routines, evening plans, or weekend habits. The plots and schemes depicted here are the drawings that the artist felt compelled to make immediately—pieces made at once and on site. In many instances, there was little need to take them back to his studio. These pieces represent fragments not simply in his typical day, but from histories lost to time. Most all note a date and a place, a timestamp that today seems to predate the digital stamp that orders, collates, and regulates our existence. In this regard, Neiman’s works provide an analogue version of the way we organize our contemporary lives.
Most striking are the types of stories that Neiman chose to tell—manyquiet, like a woven padded barstool on a crumpled muted pink napkin at the Ritz as in Bar Stool at the Ritz, London(1966). While at first it seems that Neiman simply drew the chair, this chair recalls a nostalgic artifact from a time long over. Other pieces cast a loving eye over the nourishment at the table, like Bread and Butter at Jim McMullen(1983)and Wine Bucket at Restaurant Laurent(1982),. The contrast of bread and butter to champagne exemplifies Neiman’s varied subject matter. His portraits tended to include people of all kind of class, from busboys, to caddies, to star athletes, and the glamorous world of the wealthy.
Many of Neiman’s strongest works are his illustrations from the sporting arena. The artist’s portraits of athletes convey the seriousness, the focus, and ultimately the artistry of the game itself. The curves and lines of the hockey player’s movement in Stanley Cup Playoffs (1974) recall the dramatic diagonal contours of a baroque painting, while in his portrait Shaquille O’Neal (1995), Neiman playfully outlines a looming player at the bench, In Wilt Chamberlain(1972), the star basketball player’s opponent leaps into the air, a wild crescendo that articulates the very spectacle of the game. It is clear from Neiman’s riveting portrait whose team has already won. Here and in all of his drawings, the worlds that Neiman depicted are both raw in their realness, but also wonderfully imaginative, a testament to the ethos of his life and work.
It was significant for Neiman to create work that would be accessible to everyone, and it is this literalness that lends it a sense of wonder. He saw the world for what it was, and his perspective represents a lens through which one might look at or analyze his universe. Even as he depicted his immediate surroundings, these works nevertheless address broader germane topics about the kinds of individuals who might be depicted on television, pop culture, or the media more broadly. While seemingly expansive, his work is still intimate and personal in that he depicted everything in his vision, not simply the glamor. These sketches are his world—the beautiful, the disturbing, and the comical.