Thursday, August 15, 2013

Moving Pictures: Leroy Neiman and Frank Sinatra: The Voice

It's no secret among those who know me that I love the music of Frank Sinatra. For me, a faithful listener to the legendary Philadelphia radio program "Sunday with Sinatra," nothing is even closely comparable to "the Voice." But while I first admired Sinatra for his musical talents, I later would discover his more theatrical talents on the silver screen as well. Granted, Sinatra the Actor had his limits, but in films like The Man with the Golden Arm or his magnum opus From Here to Eternity, you get a glimpse of one of the most talented entertainers of the 20th Century. So, I devote my post to the immortal Mr. S.
The Voice (2002)
Specifically, I'm concentrating on this portrait of him titled appropriately "The Voice", commissioned by his daughters in 2002 for the album cover of Classic Duets, a posthumous release. The artist is the prolific American expressionist Leroy Neiman. If you're not an art fan and you're not familiar with Neiman's work, you may recognize his name because sadly he died last year. Lately, I've come to greatly appreciate Neiman's work for a few reasons. The first is that Neiman, a pretty standard expressionist, fills his canvases with bold color and vivid motion, which creates rather striking art. More importantly (for me, at least), Neiman made his art incredibly accessible to the public. His subjects were entertainers, athletes, musicians; subjects that the general public loved and could appreciate. In some ways, Neiman reminds me of the Pop Artists, who conveyed their own loves in society into their art. But I digress. 
Neiman discussing his painting The Voice
Neiman, as it turns out, knew Sinatra personally and was a close friend and great admirer of his art. So while the painting was created after Sinatra's death, it was not made simply from copying a photo, it was created as a compilation of Neiman's own memories of his friend. In an interview with Neiman, the great artist noted how Sinatra was a talented musician who appreciated all aspects of the musical industry. Neiman painted the album art for Sinatra's late albums Duets and Duets II. Characteristically of his style, the vividly colored pieces portray Frank in his prime in the midst of singing. They're joyful, fun pieces to appreciate. But for Classic Duets, Neiman chose a more contemplative subject. According to him, he wanted to picture Sinatra listening to his own recordings and the emotions that went through his mind while listening to his own music. I feel that the result is magnificent. 
Frank Sinatra (1994)
Neiman's painting for the album Duets 
For one, the piece is not as crazily bright as most of Neiman's work. Appropriately, there is a melancholy blue palette,creating a more serious and atmosphere in the piece, as well as paying homage to Sinatra's nickname "Old Blue Eyes." Besides capturing Frank's famous likeness, Neiman also manages to achieve his goal in capturing some of Frank's more subdued, private personality, which creates an intimate piece for a large audience. 
While the painting itself never appeared (and never will appear) in a film, it does capture the likeness of one of the greatest stars, movie or otherwise, of the last century. More importantly, as an album cover, it is an accessible piece of art, which like "movie art," is greatly available to the general public to love and enjoy. And love it, I certainly do. 

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