A Flashback to Abstract Expressionism with Multidisciplinary Artist Alfred Leslie

  • Installation view of “Alfred Leslie: Abstraction 1951-1962” at Allan Stone Projects, New York. Courtesy Allan Stone Projects and the artist. 

    Installation view of “Alfred Leslie: Abstraction 1951-1962” at Allan Stone Projects, New York. Courtesy Allan Stone Projects and the artist. 

An artist who has had his finger on the pulse of much more than just the art scene, Alfred Leslie’s multi-disciplinary practice includes filmmaking, photography, writing, and music, in addition to painting and drawing. A seminal figure in New York’s 1950s and ’60s artistic circles, Leslie worked within the bounds of Abstract Expressionism for more than 15 years, before dramatically shifting his style towards Realism in 1962. “Alfred Leslie: Abstraction 1951-1962,” currently on view at  Allan Stone Projects, focuses on the artist’s abstract work prior to this shift.

Born in the Bronx in 1927, Leslie went to NYU on the G.I. Bill and later furtherer his studies at Pratt Institute and the Art Students League. In 1959 he directed Pull My Daisy together with his next-door neighbor Robert Frank. The Beat-period short film was narrated by Jack Kerouac and went on to become a cult classic. In 1960 he published The Hasty Papers, an edgy series of essays which was dismissed by critics but embraced by artistic and literary communities, and featured contributors such as Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Jean-Paul Sartre. 

“Alfred Leslie: Abstraction 1951-1962” highlights Leslie’s experimentations with collage, grid compositions, and gestural and geometric abstractions from this specific time in his varied career. Marked by bold brushstrokes and occasional drips and splatters, the paintings on view exemplify the artist’s dynamic practice, alternating between carefully placed bands of color and splashes and dabs applied in a seemingly spontaneous manner. The works also offer insights into the the context in which Leslie was painting, namely, the contagious spirit that his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries were injecting into their own works. Texture and collage were also of concern for Leslie, often manifested through generous swathes of paint and swatches of paper tacked onto the surfaces. The works exemplify recurring motifs including his explosive splatters and pairs of parallel stripes, as in Arrivato Zampano (1959) and Four Panel Green—Big Green (1956). 

In his essay on Leslie in the show’s catalogue, the visionary connoisseur and art dealer Allan Stone observes that Leslie’s works “epitomize the power and dynamic of postwar American abstract painting,” and describes his approach to making art as “embodying the zeitgeist of the time.” While the time in which they were painted has long since passed, the paintings embody a timeless quality that makes them feel just as alive and intriguing today as they were in the ’50s and ’60s.


—Jennifer Lagdameo

Alfred Leslie: Abstraction 1951-1962” is on view at Allan Stone Projects, New York, Oct. 29 – Dec. 24, 2015.


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