Perhaps you know Alfred Leslie's late paintings: hyper-real figures, often stoically separated, but with arms and legs intermingled by the flat artifice of the picture plane. Such taut compositions were not learned at the feet of baroque masters but much closer to home. A native New Yorker, the now 77-year-old Leslie debuted amid the domineering triumph of abstract expressionism, going hammer and tongs at his canvases with loaded, nearly explosive brushes. The decade's worth of abstractions (1951–62) at Allan Stone document a young artist who, though enthralled by the paintings of de Kooning, Pollock, and Rothko, directed a street-level skepticism toward their grand themes of flesh, nature, and tragedy: In 1960, Leslie cracked wise with a six-foot oil, Nix on Nixon—an exuberant waterfall of color facing off against two stark strokes of black.

Leslie began literally busting up the classicism of his elders by segmenting his canvases and slathering paint over the joints. In 1953, years before Motherwell flogged old-world elegance in his torn-paper pieces, Leslie slapped a GE logo onto a deft, vivacious collage, thereby becoming one of the instigators of the formal melee that would later disgorge Pop art. These lush, gritty works are the curtain-raiser on a New York natural.

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