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Alfred Leslie

(b. 1927)


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(1927– ).

Painter, printmaker, and filmmaker. An abstract expressionist in the 1950s, during the following decade he played an important role in the revival of figurative painting. As a filmmaker, he is particularly known for his central role in making Pull My Daisy (1959). Born in New York, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard before entering New York University, where Tony Smith numbered among his teachers. He left without a degree in 1949. Quickly recognized as a leading second-generation abstract expressionist, he painted large works filled with violent brushwork. An underlying structural grid became more prominent toward the end of the 1950s, and soon geometric forms emerged, sometimes accompanied by collage. In 1964 he adopted a forthright, unidealized, large-scale figural realism, as in Self-Portrait (Whitney Museum, 1967). Like a deadpan Caravaggio, he harshly scrutinizes himself, sloppily dressed in work clothes with unbuttoned shirt. Strong value contrasts, rigid surfaces, and a dark surrounding void intensify his confrontational visage. Later, he added to his series of similarly conceived portraits staged genre scenes of contemporary subjects and narrative or historical inventions. He has also made lithographs and landscape monoprints. Leslie began experimenting with film in the 1940s. He directed the beat classic Pull My Daisy in partnership with Robert Frank. Written and narrated by Jack Kerouac, it featured as “actors” Larry Rivers, Alice Neel, French actress Delphine Seyrig (then Jack Youngerman's wife), and poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, among others. More or less plotless, the film provides a wry, oblique glimpse into a high-spirited moment in countercultural history. Based on Leslie's memories of an abstract expressionist institution, The Cedar Bar (2001) explores the meaning and purposes of art while reimagining an alcoholically charged evening of conversation between artists, other denizens of the art world, and a critic based on Clement Greenberg. Intercut, often bizarrely unrelated film clips interrupt Leslie's script, adding an anarchic note.

Subjects: Art.


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