“You know what I like about San Francisco?” LeRoy Neiman asks. “The women are beautiful, fashionable and smart. San Francisco is one of the only cities I liketo visit. I love New York and Chicago — I studied there, and L.A. has the same people as New York.”
Neiman is in The City for a launch of a two-week show of his Femlin character drawings for Playboy at Franklin Bowles Galleries, which has represented him for 30 years.
Neiman, arguably America’s most popular living painter and printmaker, has a body of work spanning five decades. He’s known for his focus on “contemporary leisure” and “in the action” pastimes, primarily sports and sports figures, entertainment, cityscapes, personalities and wildlife.
His subjects have included athletes from Muhammad Ali to Mickey Mantle, musicians the likes of Frank Sinatra and the Three Tenors, as well as events such as the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby.
His brightly colored, dramatic, intense abstract expressionist brush strokes illuminate action pointedly. There’s a realistic depth underscoring the activity that gives it resonance and staying power.
He’s also busy, having been the official artist at five Olympic Games. He produces original art and eight limited-edition serigraphs each year and has published 10 books.
“My performance is part of my success,” he told The New Yorker, yet his private persona is as wry and quiet and as his art is kinetic.
Visiting The City for more than 30 years, Neiman has met quite a few local celebrities.
“I’ve known a couple of mayors. Quite entertaining,” he says. “Willie Brown, even Moscone. Each mayor was an individual.”
Gallery owner Franklin Bowles says, “We asked Gavin Newsom to pose for LeRoy and Gavin replied, ‘Are you kidding! Growing up in Larkspur, I had his posters on my wall!’”
Although Neiman’s trademark handlebar mustache and slicked-back hair are gray — he’s in his 80s — his eyes, and mind shine brightly.
“LeRoy will remember every baseball player and the positionthey played on the 1977 team. If he looked at your face to draw it, he could remember it and draw it again in two weeks,” Bowles says.
“The most important thing,” Neiman says about his art, “is to just do it. If I work at a higher level I have responsibility to do better than what I’ve done before. Sometimes the best happens — beyond possibility. Just do it. Can’t worry about it.”
His sexy Femlin was born 50 years ago. He says, “I wanted her to be something special. Mischevious, but respectable. Loved. Unpredictable.”
The same could be said about an artist who studies the world and winks at it — in a spirit of joie de vivre and with the fire of a creator.
LeRoy Neiman: Femlin
Where: Franklin Bowles Gallery, 765/799 Beach St., San Francisco
When: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
Contact: (415) 441-8008; www.franklinbowlesgallery.com