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 Leo Meiersdorff  (1934 - 1994)

About: Leo Meiersdorff
 

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Lived/Active: New York/Louisiana/California / Germany      Known for: jazz and culinary figurative art, expressionist abstract, mixed media painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Leo Meiersdorff
Facts/Data
Birth
1934 (Berlin, Germany)
 
Death
1994 (Idyllwild, California)

Lived/Active
New York/Louisiana/California / Germany


Photograph taken by Hank O'Neal


Often Known For
jazz and culinary figurative art, expressionist abstract, mixed media painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information is from Jennifer Meiersdorff, widow of the artist.

Leo Meiersdorff was born 14 December 1934 in Berlin-Charlottenburg, Germany. As a young child, he spent time living both in Berlin and the family estate in East Prussia, where his Prussian ‘junker’ family raised Trahkehner horses and sheep. Family trips to Rügen on the Baltic Sea and to grandparents in Magdeburg provided wonderful early childhood memories.

After WWII, Leo’s family resettled in Berlin where he graduated from high school. Despite his family’s objections, he began to pursue a career as an artist. Financing his studies by going to sea, he worked on a herring trawler in the North Sea and as a merchant seaman traveling far from his studies, but giving him many perspectives. As an art student, he was greatly influenced by Max Pechstein, Karl-Schmitt Rottluff, and Oskar Kokoschka and painted in an expressionistic style.

He also loved music—particularly jazz. He liked to emulate famous jazz pianists and formed a group of like-minded musicians in Berlin. In the late 1950’s, Norman Granz, through the U.S. Department of State, sponsored well- known jazz musicians in cultural exchanges around the world. One such concert was headed to Berlin. Leo entered a competition to design the record album cover for that event—and won! This could be considered the juncture when art and jazz became a theme for Leo.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, he embarked on trips to New York City and southern California, Laguna Beach and the LA area, meeting fellow artists and following the jazz scene there before returning to Europe to continue working in the arts. This was a period of exploration for Leo and he did restoration at the monastery in Einsiedeln, Switzerland and resumed art studies in Salzburg, Austria, eventually becoming a master student of Oskar Kokoschka.

By 1966, Leo was firmly planted in NYC, painting large expressionistic pieces in oils and mixed media. He befriended many jazz musicians and other people in the music world and began to focus on painting jazz figures in watercolors. His smaller jazz pieces became known in jazz circles, eventually becoming a demand outside of his musician friends. Leo’s experience in working in set design in Berlin transferred readily to New Orleans and Toronto, where he painted background jazz figures for television specials. Many legendary album covers from Blue Note, Concord Jazz, and Chiaroscuro are graced with Leo’s work—the artwork often requested by the musicians themselves who loved him.

Around 1970, Leo moved to New Orleans anchoring a career that has solidly identified him as a major contributor to jazz--America’s unique cultural contribution to the world. This was a prolific time for chronicling the musical and culinary culture of New Orleans and Leo captured it all. Iconic New Orleans restaurants display Meiersdorff paintings and imitators of his style can still be seen along the fence at Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter .

New projects brought him to the West Coast to set up his studio in 1979. Herb Alpert commissioned Leo to paint several large pieces of artwork to line the entry way of A&M Studios; The New Woody Herman Club opened at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans, beckoning Leo back to New Orleans for a few months to design a mural in front of the club; vineyards throughout northern California and the Pacific Northwest requested original art for wine labels as well as restaurants and jazz clubs, including jazz concerts here and abroad.

The demand for his work peaked in the mid-1980s-early 1990s and he sold prolific amounts of artwork to many different galleries and individuals, befriending many along the way. Sadly, Leo suffered from diabetes and its effects were unimaginably cruel as he began to lose his eyesight. Still, he continued to live life to the fullest, surrounded by his wife, Jennifer, and their many beloved pets.

Leo died in Idyllwild, California, a small artistic mountain enclave in southern California, in 1994, at the age of 59 years.

Copyright by Jennifer Meiersdorff, all rights reserved


Biography from SIGFine Art-Dorog Gallery:
Leo Meiersdorff 1934-1995

Leo Meiersdorff was born on December 14th, 1934, in Berlin- Charlottenburg, Germany.  He grew up at the obscure family estate in East Prussia, where he discovered his love for music at a very early age. He practiced Beethoven and Mozart on the old family piano with so much passion and enthusiasm that everybody foresaw his future as a concert pianist.

All that changed , when after the war he was sent to Berlin to study art and classical music at the academy, and for the first time he heard on the Armed Forces network radio the music of the Americans: JAZZ.  He became fascinated with its sound and rhythm: Ludwig and Amadeus went 'out the window' as Leo switched to jazz piano and trombone.  While during the day he attended his art classes studying the German expressionist masters, his evenings belonged to the rehearsals of his own jazz band.  In 1954 he went with his band on a tour, first around Germany, then throughout Europe.  But even as a full time musician, Leo kept his sketchbook and watercolors handy and whenever he could, he painted his surroundings and the people he met.

When the band finally returned to Berlin in 1958, a gallery owner saw his works and offered him a show.  The exhibition was a smash hit: all of the exhibited works sold in the first three days, and one of the enthusiastic critics saw him as: "the most promising young artist of the postwar German avant-guard.  Other artists would have enjoyed the sudden success and tried to build a future on it, but Leo always needed new challenges- and so in 1959, with the money he made, he landed in New York to 'conquer' the new world.

He hoped to find a publisher for his work, or a gallery that would give him an exhibition, but in vain.  He was new and unknown, with a strange, unpronounceable long name.  For months he hung around jazz clubs, relieving now and then the pianist and the trombone player, while painting the musicians in their typical movements and poses.  The patrons loved his pictures and invited him to drinks, but did not buy art.  When he finally ran out of money, he joined a band that had an offer to play in New Orleans.

At the "birthplace"of jazz, Leo found his new home- and his artistic aspiration forever.  Beside jazz he discovered here another favorite subject of his: he ventured into the kitchens of Bourbon street restaurants and captured the grand expertise of the Creole chefs and their culinary creations.  His sketches, originally black and white became more and more vibrant and exaggerated, giving new dimensions to his free and lucid style.  At the beginning, Meisersdorff just gave away his paintings to his musician friends as a present, but very soon they became known and popular in New Orleans and the galleries of the French Quarter started looking for the source of these images and placed orders with him.

Gradually his paintings brought in more money than his music, and he switched again.  The professional musician, who painted on the side, turned into a full time painter, who only played music for relaxation.  He showed up wherever jazz was played and pulled out his sketchbook. While traveling back and forth between New York and New Orleans, he met and befriended the biggest jazz artists- Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Hines, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton- just to name a few, who all loved his art and very soon he was asked to design record covers for chiaroscuro and several other famous recording companies.  In the late 1970s Leo began gallery affiliation in West Hollywood, California, and this furthered his career with sales and publication of posters, limited edition lithographs, serigraphs, and a special line of hand-colored black and white images for 3D so that his chaacters could be brought into three-dimensional life.

Though Leo loved his expressionistic works, his commercial success and the ever-growing demand for his culinary and musical images left him little or no time for his very rare genre and landscape paintings.  He seemed overloaded with commissions and his joyous characters popped up everywhere: from vine labels, restaurant menus and records covers, to backdrops for the biggest TV jazz shows and jazz festivals.

When Meiersdorff attended the International Children Foundation Exhibition in Stockholm, (for which he designed posters), he met the King and Queen of Sweden; they became collectors of his work and he was invited to the palace. When Miles Davis received his lifetime award at the Grammys, one of Meiersdorff's paintings was blown up and projected on a background screen. Woody Herman commissioned him to paint a 60 feet long mural for his studio and Henry Mancini placed a standing order for every new Meiersdorff release.

During his lengthy career, Leo Meiersdorff designed over 400 record covers and sold several hundred thousand posters.  There are numerous restaurants and bars around the globe, which have nothing else but his arts on their walls.  People say, seeing his culinary images makes their mouth watered and viewing his musicians, they can hear them playing.


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