Leonard Rosenfeld was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1926. After serving in WWII, he studied painting, sculpture and drawing at the Art Students League of New York. He found a place to work near the school and began to paint. By the early 1950s, he was ensconced in the Cedar Bar, the abstract expressionists’ hang-out in Greenwich Village. Clement Greenberg, Willem DeKooning and Allen Ginsberg were in and out of “the Cedar,” as were other abstract expressionists, art critics and beatniks. This was when painters “hung out” together and talked about painting. In 1957, he did “Railroad Drawings.” Martha Jackson showed three of these works in a group exhibition in 1965. In the early 1980s, he exhibited his “rag paintings” in Soho, at the so-called “supermarket,” Ivan Karp’s OK Harris gallery on West Broadway. Most of the 1980s were devoted to his favorite work—“wire paintings.” Other painting series followed (“Graffiti,” “Nuts and Bolts,” “Angels”).
During 2004–2007, he painted soldiers at war, beginning with a portrait of General David Petraeus. He had seen a New York Times book review of In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat by Rick Atkinson. It spoke of the General's question to Atkinson, “Tell me how this ends?” He was impressed by Petraeus’ question and decided to paint a portrait of him. The picture shows Petraeus as a, then, two-star General and Commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. To the right of the General’s shoulder are a gun and a wing. The General’s question seemed thoughtful and prescient. At that moment, Rosenfeld started to paint the war in Iraq. No painter he knew or anyone else was painting the story of this event. In 2007 he painted another portrait of the General. This one is entitled, Et Tu, Petraeus? Before his death in December 2009 he was creating large pastels—portraits, trains, stripes, stories—searching for the next thing. Through his 60 years as a professional artist, Rosenfeld produced a broad yet consistent range of work, always pushing the envelope and reflecting the environment and events of his day. He described himself as an Expressionist. In his words, painting “with a weird combination of abandon and discipline.”
PHOTOGRAPH Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum Archives