The nonagenarian artist reviews his long career as one of the country’s most popular and public painters.
Neiman’s most interesting pages deal with the earliest days of his life: family history, discovery of his ability, early fondness for boxers and poolrooms, days in the military. He landed at Normandy only days after D-Day. Following some formal study after the war, he headed for Chicago and a future that would one day glow as brightly as one of his signature paintings. Early on, he fell under the influence (and payroll) of Playboy’s Hugh Hefner, and he writes with an odd cagey frankness about the parties in Hefner’s mansion. He tells of his marriage to a woman whose capacity for tolerance seems mythical then proceeds into the less interesting final two-thirds of the volume, which often seem more like a chronicle of his adventures with celebrities from the worlds of sport, Hollywood, Vegas, politics and even the Mob. He declares repeatedly that he doesn’t really care that the professional art world shunned him at times—especially when he became a fixture on The Wide World of Sports and other shows. But he mentions this so many times that his claim rings hollow. Occasionally he offers something like cultural criticism (“We’re a country that craves stars”), and he reproduces a generous, colorful assortment of his work throughout the decades—so once again we see those familiar, iconic images of Muhammad Ali, Bobby Fischer, Mickey Mantle and so many others.
Although Neiman’s words are not often extraordinary, his images caught and characterized an era.