Passing the Torch

THE ARTIST'S MAGAZINE June 2006The time honored-tradition of handing down knowledge from mentor to protegee lives on today in studios around the country.

June 2006
Everett Raymond Kinstler and Michael Shane Neal

Passing the TorchEverett Raymond Kinstler’s painting lineage is a storied one: He began his career in the 1940s at the age of 16, drawing comic books and magazine illustrations in his native New York City. He then studied at the Art Students League under noted instructor Frank DeMond adn was also encouraged by famed illustrator James Montgomery Flagg. “Mr. DuMond’s influence on me was profound,” says Kinstler. “The most important thing he ever told me was ‘I won’t try to teach you to paint, but to observe.’ I did learn the importance of observation from him, as well as discipline, painting techniques and how to express my feelings.”

After studying and then teaching at the Art Students League, Kinstler established himself as one of the nation’s leading portrait painters. The subjects of his more than 1,200 portraits include presidents, Supreme Court justices, cabinet members, actors, authors, business leaders and university presidents. When he’s not painting on of his many commissions, Kinstler is busy putting together a book or video; his most recent projects include Everett Raymond Kinstler: The Artist’s Journey Through Popular Culture 1942-1962 (Underwood Books). Today, he splits his time between a studio in New York City and one in Connecticut.

To this day, Kinstler remembers with gratitude the lessons he learned from his master teachers. “I still think of my mentors’ lessons every day,” he says. “My studio is the one DuMond worked in, my easel was Flagg’s, and I have John Singer Sargent’s palette. How could I not think of them?” Kinstler felt his mentors gave him so much that he wanted to share that knowledge, so in 1969 he began teaching classes at the Art Students League where, more than 30 years later, he’s still giving lessons.

But one of his biggest rewards as an artist came almost 13 years ago, when a friend of Kinstler’s introduced him to Nashville, Tennessee artist Michael Shane Neal . At the time, Neal was a 23-year-old portrait artist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from David Lipscomb University; he had also studied at the Santa Fe Institute of Fine Arts, the Scottsdale Artist School and then Lyme Academy of Art. He loved Kinstler’s work and was eager to learn from the master. “After seeing my sketches and hearing of my admiration, Everett’s friend told him about me,” says Neal. “Everett told her to have me call when I was next in New York City.” With this invitation, the two corresponded for more than a year, during which Neal sent photos of his work for Kinstler to critique. Then Kinstler invited him to paint at a workshop in Big Timber, Montana.

Passing the TorchFrom that workshop, the two developed a close friendship and mutual respect. “I was passionate about wanting to be better an, much like a lump of clay, I was ready to be molded into shape,” says Neal. “We connected in our desire to grow. After a 60-plus year career, he’s still driven and wants to create stronger paintings.” When he began working with Neal individually, Kinstler says that the timing was right for both of them. “I had more time to give when he approached me, and his talent, attitude and integrity all impressed me.”

Neal believes his friendship with Kinstler came at a pivotal time in his own development. “From Everett I learned that drawing is the cornerstone of painting,” he says. “He taught me about value, how to understand form, structure and edges, and to discern the effect of what was in front of me. He taught me to concentrate on the things that add to what I’m trying to say.” Those important lessons helped Neal to develop his own impressive resume. His skill and mature talent won him the 2001 Portrait Society of America’s International Portrait Competition; he’s painted senators, judges, musicians and CEOs, and his work can now be found in collections across the United States.

Given the geographical distance between them, it can be difficult for Kinstler and Neal to get together. But they both still manage to find time for each other. “We meet at least once a year for a week or two, painting the landscape around my home,” says Kinstler. “We have a good time and share a lot of laughter. I also show him my work to get his input.”

Passing the Torch“We have busy schedules, but we carve out time to spend together and make an effort to email regularly,” says Neal. “I’ve studied with other artists, but with Everett I found that when he talks I understand what he’s saying. I hear him in my head every day as I paint. This passing on of information is what it’s all about. For all he’s given me, he’s never asked for anything in return except that I pass along what he’s taught me. As I in turn teach workshops and work with my own protegees, I never forget that responsibility.”

Written by: Sandra Carpenter