Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art to Open David A. Leffel Retrospective

The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University presents David A. Leffel: The Mastery of Light-A Retrospective from May 14 - August 7, 2016. There will be a reception to meet the artist on Saturday, May 14, from 5 to 7 p.m. There is no admission charge and the public is invited to attend.

The exhibition is the first major retrospective for the 84-year-old artist, who in the 1960s broke with mainstream abstraction by reviving the art of the Old Masters. Approximately 50 paintings from the past 50 years will be featured-showcasing portraiture, still lifes, and landscapes of this revered artist, author and teacher-revealing why he is regarded as a modern day Rembrandt by art critics and collectors alike.

"I planned the David Leffel retrospective to follow immediately after an exhibition of work by Andy Warhol," said Michael Zakian, Director of the Weisman Museum. "The parallels are fascinating. They were born only a few years apart and both worked as commercial illustrators in New York in the 1950s. The difference is that Warhol went on to reuse images from advertising to create Pop Art. Leffel wanted an art of greater depth and substance and chose to dedicate himself to revive forgotten techniques and learn to paint like the Old Masters."

"With David A. Leffel: The Mastery of Light, we have a rare opportunity to examine how David Leffel developed a powerful, personal style that explores the magic and mystery of light, as the exhibition chronicles his journey in becoming one of today's great masters of traditional realist art," said Zakian.

Leffel was a child prodigy. For most of his first 15 years, he lived in hospitals battling an often-fatal bone disease, osteomyelitis. Confined to hospital beds-and even a full body cast for many years-he passed the time by drawing from comic books, magazine photographs, and his own imagination. The exhibition begins with an uncanny pencil drawing of famed baseball player Joe DiMaggio, created by Leffel at age twelve.

In 1947, the disease went into remission, allowing Leffel to return home to Brooklyn to attend high school. After graduation, he enrolled at Parsons, intent on becoming a commercial artist. Leffel participated in the booming "Mad Men" era of Madison Avenue advertising but found the work unfulfilling. He left commercial art in 1959 and enrolled in an oil painting class with Frank Mason at the Art Students League, wanting to learn how to paint like Rembrandt, but only remained there for a few months.

Never finding the ideal teacher or school, Leffel realized he would have to teach himself. He spent the 1960s laboring hard to master the craft of representational painting. By the early 1970s he was beginning to receive national recognition and was featured in an article in American Artist magazine in 1971. In 1972, a personal dream came true when he was asked to teach at the Art Students League, where he was once a student. He soon became of the school's most popular and effective teachers and taught there for 20 years, before moving to New Mexico in 1992. He currently resides in Taos with his wife, painter Sherrie McGraw.

Leffel's powerful realism arises from his commitment to understanding and capturing the flow of light. He does not paint things, but light falling and flowing over objects. By treating light as a vital force, he gives his paintings the feeling that they are infused with life.

In a 144-page full-color hardbound book published to accompany the exhibition, author Zakian details Leffel's life and the development of his art. Illustrated with all works from his entire career, this beautifully produced book will be available at the museum shop and online at

Leffel's fascinating life story is also the subject of a documentary being created by filmmaker and fellow artist George Gallo. The film will be screened during the exhibition.

Located on Pepperdine's main campus at 24255 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif., the museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is closed on Mondays and major holidays. There is no admission charge.

For more information, call (310) 506-4851, or visit:

About the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art

The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University was founded in 1992. It showcases historical and contemporary art by nationally recognized artists, but focuses on the art of California. Past exhibitions have included Rodin's Obsession: The Gates of Hell (2001), Claes Oldenburg: Drawings (2004), Chihuly Los Angeles (2005), Jim Dine: Some Drawings (2007), Roy Lichtenstein: In Process (2011), Illustrating Modern Life: The Golden Age of American Illustration from the Kelly Collection (2013), and Wayne Thiebaud: Works on Paper (2014).

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