In his 17-year career as an artist, Michael Shane Neal has already accomplished more than most artists would hope to achieve in a lifetime. After beginning work as a studio artist in 1990, Neal quickly soared to the highest heights of the artist community when he won the grand prize in the prestigious International Portrait Competition hosted by the Portrait Society of America in 2001. Neal’s work out-shined entries from over 1,000 artists among 14 different countries.
Although Neal humbly credits winning the competition to an uncanny resonance with the year’s competition judges, he does not discount the event’s profound impact on his life’s career.
“That recognition changed my life,” said Neal. “The Portrait Society of America fosters opportunities in the field of portraiture and figurative art. After winning the competition, so many more doors began to open.”
One of the first of such doors was an invitation to submit material to the U.S. Senate Curator for a commissioned painting for the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Neal was chosen in the search for two artists to paint portraits for the medallions first reserved in 1876. Until the resolution passed in 1999, only five of the 11 portrait spaces had been filled. Neal’s portrait of Senator Arthur Vandenberg for the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. is the first commission of its kind in nearly 50 years. Upon receiving the commission at the age of 32, Neal became one of the youngest artists ever commissioned by the United States Senate.
Neal has most recently received commissions to paint such luminaries as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former Majority Leader and U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, and former Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. Currently on Neal’s easel is a portrait of Dr. Thomas Frist.
With all that he has accomplished, Neal maintains an eagerness to grow as an artist and has dedicated himself to a lifetime of learning.
“My goal in life is to be a good artists,” he said. “For me, that is an ever-expanding goal. I consider myself the consummate student. I am always learning, always studying. I love to read and surround myself with books. I am open to bettering myself as a painter. I lean on my faith to grow both spiritually and as an artist.
After earning his Bachelor of Arts degree from David Lipscomb University, Neal went on to study at the Sante Fe Institute of Fine Arts, The Scottsdale Artist School, and the Lyme Academy of Art. He has also sought out mentorship from other artists since early in his career. He is considered a protégée of the nation’s leading artist and presidential portraitist, Everett Raymond Kinstler, a second-generation student of John Singer Sargent.
“I met Kinstler through a friend’s kind introduction when I was in my early twenties and just starting my career,” said Neal. He invited me to call him whenever I was in New York. Although he was unable to meet with me in person when I first contacted him, he asked me to mail him samples of my work, which I enthusiastically did. To my surprise, he was so gracious and wrote me back with his critique of every painting. We corresponded that was for some time and he eventually invited me to participate in a class he was teaching in Montana. I have studied with him ever since and still call him with questions today. He has recommended me for many fine projects over the years.”
Neal’s dedication to lifelong learning has served him well as the foundation of his artistry. It has allowed him to excel at what is considered the highest form of art; portraiture. Neal describes the art of portraiture as the task of “doing justice to the crown of all God’s creation, humankind.”
“I believe that a person has to be patient and that your arrival at success is more of a culmination of growth over time,” said Neal. “Throughout my career, I have worked a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 18 hours a day. That’s what it took to manage the different things involved with my work and keep up with my clientele. Applying full commitment is the only way to grow. If you don’t love what you do, you can’t do it. If you just like something, someone who loves it will leave you in the dust. You have to be able to give it the attention that it deserves.”
“I have had the opportunity to meet many successful people over the years. One thing that I have learned is that the people who do something extremely well, love it more than they love breathing. I love what I do and I am energized by it. After 17 years, I still have to pinch myself sometimes to believe that I am living my dream of being an artist. Everyday, I just keep hoping that this is what I am able to do all of my life.”
Neal’s studio is located in Green Hills. He has longtime family ties to Williamson County. His father’s family has lived in Williamson County since the 1870’s and his mother’s family has lived here since the 1800’s. His great-grandfather’s Dave Montgomery and Thomas Roach, both fought in the Battle of Franklin and survived.
Written By: Melissa Webb