A lot of fans may not remember, but “Age before beauty” is a quick-witted line uttered by Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky as he and Apollo prepare to compete in a friendly fight without any spectators at the end of Rocky III. However, it now serves as a fitting name for another visual treat to celebrate another Rocky film milestone, Rocky IV’s 35th anniversary. The Rocky franchise has had video games, musicals, and now, it has a virtual art exhibition showcasing the work of legendary expressionist painter LeRoy Neiman.
Fans may remember Neiman’s cameo as the ring announcer with the spectacular moustache during the iconic wrestler vs. boxer battle in Rocky III, but he was also a talented artist who had a fascination with boxing and a friendship with Stallone that even led to his painting of Apollo and Rocky ending the third Rocky film. Now, in a virtual art exhibition from the historic Gleason’s of Brooklyn boxing gym, fans of the franchise can take a trip down memory lane and uncover the rarest and most intimate of Rocky artwork created from the sets of the films.
The exhibition weaves beautifully from capturing the imagination of viewers with Neiman’s undeniably eye-catching and larger than life artwork to supplying historical context to various pieces. Allowing audiences to dive deeper into the significance of some of Neiman’s Rocky pieces and also allowing possible die-hard Rocky fans to get an education in the franchise’s history as well. This great combination of history and visuals is seen from the offset of the virtual exhibition, starting by hooking viewers by revisiting the closing scene of Rocky III before showcasing the ins and outs of artwork, while all being linked together with text written by film director Andrew Bujalski. It’s a wonderful way to tie everything together and keeps the exhibition moving and intriguing, almost like a Rocky film.
In addition to seeing the most masterful and perfected paintings that Neiman has previously shared with the world, in the form of posters or canvases, what truly sets this exhibition apart is the rare, sometimes rough sketches that Neiman did on the spot on the set. Whether it’s a rough pencil sketch of Paulie or even a powerful drawing of Carl Weathers on the set of Rocky IV, sat with his arms around his knees. It’s poetic, perhaps even a foreshadowing of Apollo’s fate in the film, and what’s more unique is the fact it’s sketched on that particular shoot day’s call sheet. Each drawing or painting, in its own way, has you thinking, marvelling, or even puzzled as to what exactly Neiman was trying to capture. Regardless of what people think, it’s hard to take your eyes off his work, and in many ways, it’s incredibly challenging to not be impressed at his ability to put together these pieces on the spot.
Along with some of the rarest and most intimate of sketches, fans also get a glimpse of Neiman on the sets of different Rocky films, putting different pieces of artwork together, such as the infamous moment of Rocky Balboa standing over a fallen Ivan Drago. Plus, the added touch of then seeing Neiman’s art scattered across Gleason’s gym is another great addition to the exhibition, as it’s symbolic considering the artist’s affection for the sport, but also due to the subject matter of Rocky.
Neiman once described a painting he did of boxer Sugar Ray Robinson as “exaggerated class,” and that is almost a fitting description for his work on Rocky, particularly the completed paintings like the final shot of Rocky III. Rocky is grounded in reality, but then the qualities possessed by the franchise are showcased in an exaggerated manner. Unlike many paintings today, where they’re sometimes frighteningly lifelike, there’s a wonderful touch of exaggeration in Neiman’s work. The exhibition does a fantastic job showcasing why Stallone wanted Neiman close by during the shooting of his beloved boxing films, and also why this is a great way for fans to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of Rocky IV.
Age Before Beauty is available to view online from November 27, 2020 through January 10, 2020 at the following link.
Images courtesy of Seasons and the LeRoy Neiman and Janet Byrne Neiman Foundation