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 Alfred Leslie  (1927 - )

About: Alfred Leslie
 

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: abstract to hyper-real figure

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BIOGRAPHY for Alfred Leslie
Facts/Data
Birth
1927 (New York, New York)
 
Lived/Active
New York


Self portrait - Alfred Leslie - Self Portrait


Often Known For
abstract to hyper-real figure

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Alfred Leslie, born in New York City in 1927, began as an Abstract Expressionist painter, but in the 1960s moved to an intense, large-scale realism.  He studied at New York University in 1946-57 with Tony Smith, Hale Woodruff, John McPherson and William Baziotes. Unlike most artists who spend years struggling to establish themselves, Leslie quickly gained a reputation as a second generation Abstract Expressionist. When he made his transition to realism, he was as easily recognized in that genre.

Geometric abstraction and collaged realistic elements were sandwiched between Leslie's initial Abstract Expressionism and the ultimate realism of his artistic evolution. The process was completed in the course of only two or three years in the mid-1960s. All of Leslie's paintings, whether abstract or realistic have tended toward monumental size. His portraits may be as large as nine feet high, and are painted with a metallic hardness of surface rather than the softness of flesh.

In the 1970s the artist returned to realism and sought to link timeless spiritual beliefs and past artistic tradition with the present in the creation of a contemporary context for biblical subject matter and the themes and compositions of Caravaggio.

Alfred Leslie's paintings are in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Kuntshalle, Basel, Switzerland; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota; Museu de Arte Moderna, Sao Paulo, Brazil; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City.

Sources:
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
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Alfred Leslie was born in the Bronx, New York City, on October 20, 1927.  He attended New York University from 1946 through 1947, the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and the Art Students League, where he studied with Tony Smith, William Baziotes, Hale Woodruff and John McPherson.  He served in the United States Coast Guard in 1945 and 1946.  He taught at a Adult Education Program in Great Neck, New York from 1956 through 1957 and at the San Francisco Art Institute during the summer of 1964.

A second-generation Abstract Expressionist, Leslie turned to figure painting in the early 1960s, long before the movement toward figure painting was fashionable. His technique as a draftsman is formidable. He experimented with filmmaking, writing, set designing and photo-realism in the 1950s and 1960s.

Leslie is a slight, loquacious, one-time physical-culture enthusiast. His wife, Constance West, often poses as a model for him.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
Robert Hughes in Time magazine, January 31, 1972
Newsweek Magazine, June 7, 1976
Contemporary Artists, 2nd Edition
Dictionary of Contemporary American Artists, Paul Cummings
Time Magazine, January 12, 1968


Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, E-O):
Born in the Bronx, New York, on October 20, 1927, multidisciplinary artist Alfred Leslie gained notice in the postwar period on the strength of his early abstract paintings, later figurative works, and independent films. An outgoing personality with close ties to Abstract Expressionist artists, Leslie turned his studio into a lively gathering place for New York’s avant-garde.

After serving briefly in the U. S. Coast Guard, Leslie studied art from 1946 to 1947 with Tony Smith and William Baziotes at New York University on the G. I. Bill and, later, at the Pratt Institute and the Art Students League. His early work—forceful abstractions, ranging from large canvases to small collages—soon made his name as a second-generation Abstract Expressionist (1), part of a group of young New York School artists that included Grace Hartigan, Norman Bluhm, Michael Goldberg, Al Held, and Joan Mitchell.

Leslie worked in this vein throughout the 1950s. He participation in the seminal, artist-organized Ninth Street Show in 1951 and had his first solo exhibition at Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1952, followed by additional shows there in 1953, 1954, and 1957. In 1959, he was included in the “16 Americans” show at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1960, reviewing a show at the Martha Jackson Gallery for the "New York Times," Dore Ashton considers Leslie’s work in the context of his Abstract Expressionist forerunners: “While Mr. Leslie has taken the foot-wide stroke and casual way of applying paint initiated by Mr. de Kooning, he has lately sought to endow his huge canvases with a calm enforced by horizontal and vertical structures.” (2)

In recent years, Leslie’s Abstract Expressionist work has been the object of renewed appreciation, with the shows “Action/Precision: The New Direction in New York, 1955–1960” organized by the Newport Harbor Art Museum in 1985 and “Alfred Leslie 1951–1962: Expressing the Zeitgeist” at Allan Stone Gallery in 2004.

Leslie shifted to a large-scale figurative style by the end of 1962. His new work, a series of monumental, hyper-realist portraits in grisaille, marked Leslie’s reaction to the broadening mainstream acceptance of Abstract Expressionism. In a 1985 interview with Stephen Westfall in "Art in America," Leslie remarked “The adversarial position of 20th-century painting, which was what so attracted me in 1946, seemed to have disappeared by 1960. And it seemed to me that within the framework of figuration there was a way to renew painting.” (3) Leslie sought not only to breathe new life into a neglected, discredited genre but to, in his words, “restore the "practice" of painting, which I felt was slipping away.” (4)

In tandem with his ambitious and versatile work as a painter since the late 1940s, Alfred Leslie has also earned a reputation as a filmmaker. His third film, "Directions: A Walk after the War Game," was screened at the Museum of Modern Art around the same time that Leslie was breaking out as a New York School painter. In 1958, Leslie collaborated with photographer Robert Frank on the beatnik classic "Pull My Daisy," narrated by Jack Kerouac and featuring Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Alice Neel, and Larry Rivers, among many others.

In 1966, just before a planned retrospective at the Whitney Museum, a studio fire upended Leslie’s life and artistic practice by destroying everything from canvases to film footage for works in progress. In the aftermath, Leslie decided to focus on exclusively on painting. He did not complete another film until The Cedar Bar (2002), an exploration of the heated discussions between artists and critic Clement Greenberg that took place in the heyday of Abstract Expressionism. Also in 1996, poet Frank O’Hara, Leslie’s close friend and collaborator, died in a car accident. The loss inspired “The Killing Cycle,” a series of five major paintings in the manner of Caravaggio and hundreds of studies created between 1967 and 1981.

Leslie’s work was the subject of a traveling retrospective organized by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1976. A series of monochromatic landscapes, “100 Views along the Road: The Watercolors of Alfred Leslie,” toured nationally in 1986. Now in his eighties, Leslie continues to live and work in New York City.

1. Leslie did not like the phrase “second generation Abstract Expressionism,” preferring instead Clement Greenberg’s term, “painterly abstraction.” Stephen Westfall, “Then and Now: Six of the New York School Look Back” "Art in America" (June 1985), p. 113.
2. Dore Ashton, “Art: Two Abstractionists,” "New York Times," January 6, 1960.
3. Westfall, p. 112–113.
4. Westfall, p. 113.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

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