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Abstract Expressionist Leslie Alfred Created Art with Jack Kerouac. Now He Makes Art with Photoshop

Abstract expressionist Alfred Leslie's new 'Pixel Scores' series explores Photoshop, New York City, and 'The Maltese Falcon.'

by Taji Ameen
Mar 30 2014, 12:17pm

Photo by the author

After exploring art, New York, and skateboards for over a year, Taji's Mahal is ending this week. For my column's grand finale, I caught up with Alfred Leslie, a legendary artist and Renaissance man who has claimed New York as his stomping ground since the glory days of the Beat Generation. From abstract expressionism to Pull My Daisy (the 1959 film he created with Robert Frank and Jack Kerouac) to his new Pixel Scores series currently on display at the Janet Borden Gallery, Alfred has been a New York art-world fixture for over half a century. This month, I met with Alfred to discuss the new series he created with Photoshop.

Bardamu, Alfred Leslie, 2012-2014

VICE: How did you become a part of New York's art scene?
Alfred Leslie: I just fell into it. When I came out of the service in 1945, I met all of the major so-called abstract artists in post-war New York. That was the atmosphere I came into, the post-war art world, filled with hundreds upon hundreds of those who had fled Europe, like Mondrian, many of the Surrealists, and others. They were here mingling with Rothko, de Kooning, Pollock, and all of the other artists who had already been in New York and contributed to it.

Fast forward to 2014 and your Pixel Scores series. You used a tablet and mouse to create your latest artwork. How do you use modern technology to create art?
Photoshop is a tool, like a hammer, and it's designed to mimic what a painter does. It has many limitations, but I twist the tool around and make it do what I want. There is nothing I have to learn about painting or composition, so everything that the designers had to figure out to make this tool work, I already know. There are different types of hammers with different uses, so I've taken a tool that is used mostly for one thing, notably for adjustments and transformations in photographs, but I don't use photographs. I draw using the tablet and the mouse and create images. These images, from a formal point of view outside of the technology, are exactly the same as the paintings I did. The only difference was before I used a stick, with a couple of hairs on it, and some mud mixed with oil.

Miss Wonderly, Alfred Leslie, 2012-2014 

Who are the people you chose as subjects for this series?
They're all fictional characters from books.  

I thought they were real people you knew!
No, but all of the relevant details are from places I knew and grew up with that are special to me. For instance, Miss Wonderly is a pseudonym for a woman in The Maltese Falcon.  When she appears she is a homicidal gangster dame and introduces herself as Miss Wonderly. I always thought it was the most extraordinary of names and that she was a great creature. The setting of my picture is old New York circa 1932.  I can show you in the details of the background of Miss Wonderly the subway station and different characters: a woman aggressively standing with two of her daughters, a man standing with his [mentally challenged] daughter, a newsboy selling the Saturday Evening Post, and a group of women looking down and watching an Indian woman hanging clothing on a rooftop line. 

That's incredible, Alfred. Thanks for sharing your New York history with me for the last Mahal!

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