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Biofile: LeRoy Neiman Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: One of the world’s most prolific and best-known artists.

DOB: June 8, 1921 In: St. Paul, Minnesota Died: June 20, 2012

Hobbies/interests: “Exercise moderately. My work is my life. I have to keep in shape to paint … it’s a performance. Boxing is my real passion. I can go to ballet, theatre, movies, or other sporting events … and nothing is like the fights to me. I’m excited by the visual beauty of it. A boxer can look so spectacular by doing a good job.”

First job: “Army chef.”

Favorite movies: “Gone with the WindCasablancaOn the WaterfrontBeauty and the Beast (1946 French version by Jean Cocteau).”

Musical tastes: “I enjoy all music … classical, Vivaldi, Verdi, Chopin, jazz, Duke, Count, Diz.”

Favorite meal: “Depends on the restaurant … cannelloni at Harry Cipriani’s. Crab cakes at ‘21′ Club. Bourride at the Cafe des Artistes. And chocolate souffle at Le Cirque. I’ve got about 15 restaurants that I eat at consistently. Eating is one of the great beauties in life. One of my favorite recreations … eating with friends, the service, the ambience.”

Favorite breakfast cereal: “Oatmeal or cream of wheat.”

Favorite ice cream flavor: “Praline.”

Greatest career moment: “There’s no greatest moment in the arts. It’s a life, it’s a continuity thing. You can’t have a great moment because it’s spiritual. It’s a belief, it’s a calling. If you’re an artist, doing your own thing on your own, it’s while you’re doing it that counts. It’s a process. If you get too elated, you can get too depressed. What you’ve got to do is maintain the control of your surface that you’re working on whether it’s canvas or paper. I don’t have any high points. Because the high points are within the doing, the process.”

Most painful moment: “The moment that I learned the most from.”

(Photo by Pete Pharoah.)

Most treasured possession: “My independence, my health, to be myself. There are few objects that I care about owning.”

Funny career memory: “I did a two-man exhibition with Salvador Dali many years ago. And they wanted to take a photograph of both of us together. The photographer wanted me to get rid of my cigar. And Dali, a man of few words, overruled and said, ‘No … (it’s a) good prop [laughs].”

Ali memory: “The time I was in the dressing room with Ali and Angelo (Dundee) before one of his fights. And Ali asked Angelo to turn off the lights, because he wanted to see if I could sketch in the dark [laughs].”

Embarrassing career moment: “[Pause] Humiliating, I’d say … you gotta shake those memories. I’m not gonna talk about that [smiles].”

Favorite athletes to watch: “Bernard Hopkins. Oscar De La Hoya. Mike Tyson. (NBA?) Allen Iverson — my all-time favorite. Because he has retained his background and he’s a real competitor. And he’s very, very, very good. And I think the new kid LeBron James — he’s great. He shows greatness very early. He’s got a long time to excel. My favorite in the old days was Wilt. Wilt was my man. (NFL?) My football is based on my hopes for Eli Manning. I’d like to see him do it for the Giants. (MLB?) Hideki Matsui. Derek Jeter. Jose Reyes. (Tennis?) Venus Williams. Venus is the first woman who I feel plays with grace and beauty. (Golf?) Right now I’m projecting. Because I’ve just been commissioned to paint the 2008 Ryder Cup in Louisville. So I’m going to watch that stuff pretty closely. I have hopes for (Sergio) Garcia. I like him. It’s unanimous who the best player is. Don’t have to mention that [smiles]. It goes without saying. There’s a lot of good great players.”

Favorite vacation spot: “I don’t take vacations. But I consider it a vacation when I go to Vegas. I do commissions there. I think Las Vegas offers more distraction than anyplace I know of.”

Childhood dream(s): “No, I never had any dreams. The process of art is a dream in itself. The artist just doesn’t … you work out something. It’s yours. You don’t have to go to sleep to do that. You do that on the canvas.”

People qualities most admired: “A person who gives their very best effort to excel in whatever they do. And the result of that should be a benefit to others, as well as to themselves and their own example.”

(Note: LeRoy was a dear friend from 1992 when we met at a boxing match press room in Atlantic City until his passing just weeks after the completion of his memoirs “All Told” in 2012. – SM)

Artwork by Scoop Malinowski.

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