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 Seymour Leichman  (1933 - )

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: modernist painting, illustration

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from Auction House Records.
"Conquest of the Air"
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Biography from Butler Institute of American Art:
Seymour Leichman from an exhibition catalog : Seymour Leichman : Recent Paintings published by Kennedy Galleries in 1972:

....Like every other major artist, Leichman went through a period of apprenticeship. In art school (Cooper Union) and a brief spell of supporting himself by commercial art (in which he quickly rose to the top and as quickly bowed out unconditionally) he learned to draw, compose, make likenesses or caricatures almost effortlessly.  His first important picture, The Performer, was painted as he was extricating himself from this seductive life, perhaps as a defense against temptations which appealed strongly to his sensual nature.  In a small New York gallery ten years ago I saw Tamayo stand enchanted in front of this brilliant canvas; the Mexican painter thought his own early folk-fantasy was being recreated--and perhaps it was.  But there was more of Picasso in the fractured masks, and Chagall in the floral palette.  Bacon might have been flattered by less lyrical apparitions of the same period.  And in a lighter vein there were pictorial tributes to such boyhood heroes as W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Jason Robards and Whitey Ford.

Leichman did not become locked in to any of these popular subjects--or the heady influences of his masters.  He rejected nothing that he had learned.   In commercial art he had acquired great facility in drawing; by subjecting himself later to rigorous sessions with models he deepened his mastery without turning against his skill.  There followed several years of mutual experimentation with acrylics, tempered by visits to the Prado where he studied the "black" Goas, and to Mexico where his early admiration for Orozco was reinforced.  This phase culminated in a commission from the Government of Jamaica for whom Leichman executed a monumental all-weather painting on cement commemorating the black republic's emergence from colonial rule.  Its title The Good Shepherd referred to a central figure, presiding over evocations of Jamaica's past and present. The image was inspired by Kingston's "Pocomania" preacher, Kapo, himself a gifted painter and sculptor.  With familiar turban, shepherd's crook and gorgeously embroidered robe, the Good Shepherd became the pyramidal center of a busy intersection from which radiated easily such seemingly disparate traffic as the Spanish Conquereors on their white chargers; the ambivalent figure of Bishop Bartolome de las Casas, savior of the Indians and introducer of African slavery; Marcus Garvey, the American precursor of Black Power; Paul Bagle, local hero of the slave revolt; and Martin Luther King whose shocking martyrdom took place during the actual painting of the mural.

The contemporary relevance of the historical past was pointed up by such details as a Lipton tea-bag on the cup being offered "Kapo" by a Jamaican beauty, and angels with their ears pressed raptly to transistor radios as they barrel-rolled overhead.  But the murals stunning impact was conveyed by acrylic colors that exceeded even egg tempera in richness, and by a controlled draftsmanship that kept the artist's intellect and compassion from slipping over into mere documentation or sentiment. 

Leichman amuses himself when he isn't painting by writing books for children, and no one who reviewed his best-selling The Boy Who Could Sing Pictures faulted him for tempering his imagination with both intellect and tenderness.  It was about this time (1967) that Leichman began to put it all together as a painter.  "There is a meeting ground for me," he had written, "where fantasy and reality are one, and I want to paint this as precisely as I can."  But he had gone on to confess that in his daily existence there was "an intense anxiety which I have long ago accepted as a condition of this kind of image making."  Out of this anxiety came the stream of "dark" pictures that make up one side of Leichman's oeuvre : the memories of childhood in the drab Brooklyn of his immigrant parents; the hovering fear that hung over all Jews in the Thirties and Forties; the ambiguity with which a child in such a milieu must have regarded the self-confident Nazi--part demon and part deliverer from the ancient Jewish syndrome of fatalistic abnegation.  In the culminating picture of this period, The War Room, the menacing Stormtroopers finally universalized into something transcending the child's love-hate relationship with it. 

The other Leichman's, sun-drenched, humorous, light-hearted, which began to flow as obsessively and sometimes simultaneously with the "dark" pictures, bespeak that "middle class" impulse to commune with "a quiet life and a big bowl of cabbage soup" which Pushkin mentioned, and which the essential normality in the complete artist yearns after.  In such a transitional piece as Interior the dark and light Leichmans converge with an effect at once disturbing and dazzling.  But in the very recent Lost Traveller's Dream a synthesis is under way.  The woman on the bed by the very fact of her pregnancy seems to be orchestrating the flaming landscape into peace.  The rolling hills no longer heave. I n relief one senses that breathless immobility that precedes the rebirth of spring. Dmitri Vasarian

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