Photographs That Read Like a Painter’s Sketchbook
By Richard Malinksy, Arts Editor
“My art is about personal mythology. The unreliable nature of memory,” Neil Leinwohl explains on his website, where he features current work as both a photographer and painter in New York City. After years of part-time painting and taking thousands of random photographs commuting to his full-time job as creative director for a Manhattan advertising agency, he has retired and now devotes all of his time to painting.
His career as an artist began in 1966, when he left art school to enlist in the army as a photographer. In a very short period time he was transferred to Vietnam. There, he honed his photographic skills and produced some compelling documentary images that left an indelible mark on his memory:
An undated painting clearly visualizes the indelible turbulent era of the sixties:
In 1970 he began his career in advertising. The photographs produced over the next forty-five years read much like a painter’s sketchbook, documenting the transient of the moment—black and white images of blank-faced pedestrians moving through the streets, with no indication of who they are, where they are, or where they are going. They merely occupy a space at a particular time, consumed by their own thoughts.
This theme of transience and the unreliable nature of memory resonates in his current paintings, though more conceptually and in the context of grids. In “Short-Term Memory Loss,” a stylized image of an animal, perhaps a horse, appears in a soft pastoral green rectangle to progressively fade out, then to reappear. Some rectangles are crossed out and the pastoral interrupted by the more strident of yellow, black, and imagery of bombs. The painting speaks to the detail of memories that may be dulled by the fog of war, but also to the totality of the experience which will always be present:
The events of September 11, 2001 rocked the nation as a whole and will never be forgotten, and so it was for Neil Leinwohl. His site includes many paintings on this theme in various compositional formats.
Leinwohl has developed a style based on an abstract compositional design that allows him to slip in and out of impressionistic imagery to tell his story, as seen in “Rapid Descent”:
Neil Leinwohl’s work tells a story of the profound events in his life that have created powerful memories and the emotional experiences of recalling them. You will also find on his site his blog, which serves up some interesting reminiscences, about riding the Long Island Railroad after returning on leave from Vietnam, and even a couple of poems. Compared to the rest of his site, the blog is rather sparse but promising of more anecdotes to complement his life’s visual works.
On his “contact” page, he thanks you for visiting and displays an image that illustrates his own self image:
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