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 Leonard (Parker Lee) Leibsohn  (1924 - 1995)



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Lived/Active: California/Louisiana / Mexico      Known for: abstraction and realism, landscape, marine and still life painting

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Parker Lee is primarily known as Leonard (Parker Lee) Leibsohn

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Ad Code: 4
Leo Leibsohn (Parker Lee)
from Auction House Records.
Impressionist style harbor scene
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Jeffrey Morseburg:
Leonard "Parker Lee" Leibsohn
(1924 - 1995)

Leo Leibsohn was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 2, 1924. His father, Nate Leibsohn, was born in Czarist Russia in 1890; his mother in Imperial Germany in 1893. He was a precocious talent who caught the eye of the great American Regionalist painter Grant Wood (1891-1942), who served as the young man's first mentor and taught him the basics of figurative painting. However, Leibsohn had no interest in pursuing the Regionalist style favored by Wood, which had taken America by storm during the Great Depression, popularized by Associated American Artists and in the pages of Life Magazine. 

After service in the Army Air Force during World War II, Leibsohn went on to the University of Iowa, where he received a B.A. in Fine Arts in 1950. After he finished his studies there he moved to Colorado, where he received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Denver.

In 1953 the young painter moved to Colorado Springs, which had a long history as an art colony. There he came under the lasting influence of the pioneering modernist Emerson Woelffer (1914-2003), who was teaching at the Fine Arts Center and who was painting in a large studio near the newly constructed Air Force Academy. Leibsohn also came to know the modernist Robert Motherwell (1915-1991), who came to Colorado Springs to teach in the summer of 1954.

It was in Colorado where Leibsohn's work began to mature and he achieved the balance between realism and abstraction that he had been seeking. He had his first solo exhibition at the George Nix Gallery there and was named "Painter of the Year" by the Colorado Springs Art Guild. Leibsohn won the Purchase Prize sponsored by the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and then was given a solo exhibition at that prestigious institution. While living in the Mile High State he participated in a long series of exhibitions and was awarded first prize in the Annual Competition for Colorado Artists.

In 1955, Leibsohn moved to Oklahoma City, where he began teaching and was invited to do a one-man show at the Municipal Art Gallery, then run by the famous Oklahoma painter Nan Sheets (1885-1976). In Oklahoma City he won the Association of Oklahoma Artists Purchase Award and the F. Allen Brooks Memorial Purchase Award, and in 1956 he was invited to do a solo exhibition at the University of Oklahoma.
It was in 1957 that Leibsohn first struck out for the coast, opening a bohemian studio in Los Angeles. He began showing his work with the irrepressible art impresario Martin Lowitz in Beverly Hills and exhibiting in regional competitions. Martin Lowitz was a colorful character who represented both fine art artists and prolific lesser lights who helped him provide works for hotels and other commercial accounts. In many cases, artists worked under more than one name, doing "serious" work under their own name and more rapid commercial work under a nom de plume.

In his gallery Lowitz framed his inventory in a florid style with wide gold moldings and double or triple velvet liners. Because of his signature style of framing, works sold by Lowitz are still easily recognizable in the homes and offices of elderly Los Angeles collectors. Lowitz counted many Hollywood celebrities among his clients, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Vincent Price, all of whom collected Parker Lee Leibsohn's work.  Although it was Lowitz who had made his work popular in California, Leibsohn eventually left the gallery over the difficulty of working with the headstrong dealer. 
Leibsohn was drawn to Latin culture, and he spent at least some of the late 1950s in Mexico, discovering the verdant valley of Cuernavaca, where many of Mexico's most elite families had their summer homes. The summer of 1959 was spent in Santa Fe, New Mexico, long a popular home for painters. He was awarded the First Purchase Prize by the Museum of Fine Arts in New Mexico in its Biennial, which included painters from seven western states. Later, he was given a solo exhibition by the museum.

Leibsohn was a passionate jazz aficionado and, when he lived in Los Angeles he enjoyed the vibrant West Coast jazz scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s. His collection of jazz that he personally taped on his reel-to-reel machine was the envy of many of his musical acquaintances. He was a highly social character, and his studio became the site of raucous parties and impromptu jazz sessions that lasted long into the night. When a heart condition required him to have surgery, he decided to hold his own anticipatory "memorial wake" the night before the operation, and due to his still-inebriated state the doctors were forced to reschedule his surgery.

In the mid 1960s, Leibsohn began working with gallery owner and agent Howard Morseburg (1924-2012), who purchased his work and then sold it to other galleries and arranged to exhibit it throughout the western United States. This relationship would be one of the longest of the painter's artistic career, a business relationship and friendship that lasted for more than twenty-five years. Morseburg sold Leibsohn's stylized florals and Cubistic urban landscapes steadily, and in recent years these works have finally begun to reach the secondary market as collections assembled in the 1960s and 1970s have been dispersed.
Leibsohn's urban landscapes were inspired by real places that he lived and visited - New Mexico, California and then Mexico - often with buildings perched precariously on steep hills, many times with a waterway as the central element in the composition. His floral still lives were highly stylized and sometimes crossed the line from being recognizably representational to abstract. In some of his works, Leibsohn used the palette knife extensively, giving them a great deal of impasto. Many of his earlier works may be described as "Tonalist," as he relied on a limited palette of closely related colors, but as his career advanced, his work became more colorful and the palette could become dissonant, even jarring to those who had grown used to his earlier method of working. Leibsohn used his adopted name of "Parker Lee" to sign the vast majority of his paintings, usually reserving his own last name, "Leibsohn," for his purely abstract compositions.

In March of 1968, on one of his semi-annual trips to renew his visa at the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles, Leibsohn and his companion, Ingrid Andresen, a German expatriate club owner whom he had met in Cuernavaca, were married in Las Vegas. They shared an interest in music and art, and Andresen's son, who was then a teenager, was studying classical music. They occupied a studio on Cuernavaca's main square, where Leibsohn painted and exhibited his work. Later in 1968, an exhibition titled "Parker Lee Liebsohn" opened at the Palacio de Cortes in Cuernavaca. Sponsored by the state government and held in collaboration with the "Olimpiada Cultural," the Cultural Olympics, the exhibition opened on August 31, 1968.  Held during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Leibsohn's exhibition was a resounding success.

In 1970 he exhibited in Germany, traveled and painted in Europe, and lived for a while in Lisbon, Portugal. He sailed back to the United States for some exhibitions and then returned to Cuernavaca. Life as an expatriate agreed with the middle-aged painter, and his long sojourn in Mexico was the most productive and creative period in the painter's life. He exhibited extensively in Mexico and continued to send paintings north to galleries in the United States. He usually painted late into the night while listening to the vast collection of jazz that he had on reel-to-reel tape, a cigarette always dangling from his mouth.

Leibsohn's last home was the Jazz city of New Orleans, where he moved in the late 1980s. He wanted a change of pace and was drawn to the unique atmosphere of the "Crescent City" and its legendary jazz scene. He continued to party and paint and exhibited at the downtown Wilkinson Row Gallery and befriended many of the musicians who were active on the local scene. Wilkinson Row published a series of lithographs, titled Blue Umbrella, Out of the Mistand Vieux Carre. 

Leibsohn died in New Orleans on November 5, 1995, leaving a legacy of dozens of solo exhibitions and a long list of collectors across the United States, Mexico and Europe. 

Written and Copyrighted 2010-2015 by Jeffrey Morseburg, not to be reproduced without specific written permission.  Jeffrey Morseburg is an appraiser, archivist, researcher and writer, specializing in 19th and 20th century art.  His father, the late Howard Morseburg, represented hundreds of artists during his long career, minor and major, from abstract and Pop Art, to traditional paintings and Early California Art )

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