The leading New York ‘Beat’ Painter and filmmaker Alfred Leslie has died aged 95. Leslie was born in the Bronx in 1927 and lived and worked in Manhattan. He studied with Tony Smith at NYU and was an artist’s model for Reginald Marsh’s classes. He was selected for the seminal exhibition “New Talent” organised by the Art critics Clement Greenberg and Meyer Schapiro at the Kootz Gallery in 1950. Leslie’s provenance also included the exhibition of his Abstract-Expressionist paintings at the iconic “Ninth Street Show” in 1951.
Leslie’s style evolved from pure abstraction to figurative realism, distilling his background in film
Leslie, the son of German immigrants, was born Alfred Lippitz in 1927 in the Bronx. After high school, he served for two years in the Coast Guard. This made him eligible for the GI bill, which paid for his art studies at New York University, where his professors included the sculptor Tony Smith. Leslie also took courses at the Art Students League and Pratt Institute. In the late 1940s, he was slated to become the successor to Jackson Pollock. In the 1950s and ’60s, he was associated with a community of avant-garde artists and writers, including Joan Mitchell, Larry Rivers, Robert Frank, Frank O’Hara, and Jack Kerouac, with whom he often collaborated.
He co-directed the quintessential Beat Generation film ‘Pull My Daisy’ (1959) along with the photographer Robert Frank. The film was narrated by Jack Kerouac himself. In the early 1960s, Leslie’s style evolved from pure abstraction to figurative realism, distilling his background in film to be fully realised through painting.
Much of his early work was destroyed in a 1966 fire that claimed the lives of 12 firefighters as it spread to three buildings in the Flatiron district of Manhattan. He told the NY Times, “My whole studio burst into flames. I stood on the street and saw my paintings burning through the windows.” A major exhibition of his grisaille paintings at the Whitney Museum of American Art had to be canceled. He then moved into figurative painting which was highly influential to a whole new generation of young ‘New Realist’ painters. Over the past 15 years, he took these interests one step further, incorporating them with new digital technology to create paintings on the computer, which he has named Pixel Scores.
In 2018, Leslie was given the Lee Krasner Award in recognition of a lifetime of artistic achievement granted by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. His most recent body of work, the Pixel Scores, was the subject of a major solo exhibition, Alfred Leslie: One Hundred Characters in Search of a Reader, at the Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston, Texas, from September 2018 through January 2019.
His work has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally. It is included in the permanent collections of numerous institutions, including The Art Institute of Chicago, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., The Saint Louis Art Museum, The Walker Art Center, and The Whitney Museum of American Art.
Alfred Leslie died on 30 January due to Covid complications.
Top Photo: Alfred Leslie ‘The Killing Cycle: The Accident (The Killing of Frank O’Hara)’