INTERVIEWS with ARTISTS

PHYLICIA RASHAD

BILLY CRUDUP

CAROL LAWRENCE

ANDRUS NICHOLS

MARTY RAYBON

ALONZO KING

JAKE LANDERS

KERRY GILBERT

YI-MIN CAI

MICHAEL SHANE NEAL

TONYA S. HOLLY

CAROLYN PALMER

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“I remember reading a framed needlepoint sampler when I was young: “You must not judge another man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.” This little piece of craft store kitsch was like an epiphany for me…And going to the United Nations opened up this door to an idea for me, an idea of peace and reconciliation among strangers who distrusted each other. And I think I’ve never really given that up or gone beyond that idea of being a translator, of explaining people to each other, of being a conduit of mutual emotional understanding. I’m only being a little grandiose when I say I think that’s why I've always been drawn to characters who are difficult to translate to other people, prissy women, disagreeable women, women whose motives are easily misconstrued, women who are hard to love."  
- Meryl Streep

“In everything, without doubt, truth has the advantage over imitation.”
- Cicero

 

 

“The actor must constantly remember that he is on the stage for the sake of the public.”
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

 

“In everything, without doubt, truth has the advantage over imitation.”
- Cicero

 

Ronald Rand in Let It Be Art

“To flourish, society depends on a strong cultural heritage as well as innovation. The challenge is to breathe new life into the arts. Creativity is at the heart of every successful nation. It finds expression in great visual art, wonderful music, fabulous performances, stunning writing, gritty new productions and countless other media. Giving form to our innate human creativity is what defines us to ourselves and the world.
This is what the arts have always done. The lasting value and evidence of a civilization are its artistic output and the ingenuity that comes from applying creativity to the whole range of human endeavor. What is education if it doesn't teach our children to think creatively and innovatively? What use is a robust economy unless it is within an innovative country that can attract and stimulate the world? How can good governance exist without a population that is engaged, educated and able to form its own opinions?”  Excerpt from an essay, “Reviving a creative nation,”
 – by Cate Blanchett and Julianne Schultz, April 16, 2008, For the Creative Australia Stream at the 2020 Summit

“Simply think the words.”
— Goethe

“Action is the direct agent of the heart.”
— Delsarte

“The supreme goal of the theatre is truth, the ultimate truth of the soul.”
— Max Reinhardt

“Through the unity of reason and emotion, of spirituality and affection and sensation, the actor will discover his creative genius for the stage – the art of acting.”
— Erwin Piscator

“The artist-actor unveils his inner soul.”
— Eleonora Duse

“Living is a process. Acting is the act of laying oneself bare, of fearing off the mask of daily life, of exteriorizing oneself.  It is a serious and solemn act of revelation. It is like a step towards the summit of the actor’s organism in which are united consciousness and instinct.”
— Jerzy Grotowski

“Let us find our way to the unknown, the intuitive, and perhaps beyond to man’s spirit itself.. “
— Viola Spolin

“Cultivate an ever continuous power of observation. Above all things, see the sunlight and everything that is to be seen.” – John Singer Sargent

“So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music is some living form will accompany and sustain it.” – Aaron Copland

“The poem, the song, the picture, is only water drawn from the well of the people, and it should be given back to them in a cup of beauty so that they may drink - and in drinking understand themselves.” – Federico García Lorca

Michael Shane Neal

Began his career as an artist at the age of 21, and has completed nearly five hundred portraits on display around the country. His painting of Senator Arthur Vandenberg for the U. S. Capitol, was the first commission of its kind in nearly 50 years. Mr. Neal is among the youngest artists ever commissioned by the U. S. Senate. His recent portraits include Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, former Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, U.S. Senators Arlen Specter, Robert C. Byrd, Bill Frist, Federal Chief Judge Anthony Scirica, Sir Malcolm Colquhoun of Luss, Scotland, and Morgan Freeman. A protégé of America’s most celebrated figurative and portrait painter, Everett Raymond Kinstler, his work has been featured in “American Artist,” “International Artist,” “Sketchbook,” “The Artist’s Magazine,” “Art News,” “Fine Art Connoisseur,” “Art Collector Magazine,” and “Nashville Arts Magazine.” He received the Grand Prize in the 2001 Portrait Society of America International Portrait Competition, the National Arts Club’s Catherine Lorilland Wolfe Award, the Audubon Artist’s Tara Fredrix Award, and the Artist’s Magazine Award of Excellence at the 2004 Oil Painters of America National Exhibition. An Exhibiting Artist member of the National Arts Club, the Allied Artists of America, the Artist Fellowship, the Cumberland Society of Painters, the Audubon Artists, the Salmagundi Club of New York, the Lotos Club of New York, the Sloane Club of London, Mr. Neal is a member of the Board of Directors of the Portrait Society of America and Cheekwood Museum of Art.

What do you enjoy the most about creating through paint and what are some of the challenges you face painting portraits?

Everett Raymond Kinstler by Michael Shane Neal

I have always, in some ways, put an equal weight in my interest in getting to know people and understanding them, and then trying to interpret them so the portrait looks like them on a flat surface. Art has been a part of my entire life, and I have always had an intense interest in people and in painting them; it’s been one of my main drives, or as Ray Kinstler would say, working on “the next victim.”

In regard to the challenges, I think I'm always challenged in every way by the technical aspect of painting, by the materials, and what I think I can get out of them, about what they could or should achieve. I sometimes feel limited and ask: “Why is a certain pigment not working or is it my own proficiency in my trying to get something down to come close to what I’m envisioning?” And it doesn’t get any easier. I have talked to older artists, and they tell me that it’s actually a healthy place to be. As an artist, I’m always pushing myself, expecting more of myself, determined that it’s got to be better.

When you begin a new painting, what thoughts come floating through your mind?

Edward Albee by Michael Shane Neal

Terror is the first thing. You look at a big blank white canvas, and the greatest fear is the moment you start and then the problem-solving begins. How do I get into the painting? I’m less intimidated once I’ve started.

Did you have a desire to express yourself through paint at an early age?

My earliest memory was drawing and sculpting when I was about three or four years old. I had the unrelenting desire to make things out of clay or to draw or to try to paint. I have always been trying to create things.

When I was fifteen I began seeing painters on public television and I thought I’d love to do that. I had gotten a job working in a store, and after I had saved my first three paychecks, I went to the art store and bought my first paint set.

There really weren’t any other artists in my family, there were a lot of musicians, and I had an uncle who could draw, and I began to receive encouragement but I didn’t really know how to start. The first day I tried to paint, I set up my canvas and paint, but I had bought a presentational easel, so when I put my first stroke on the canvas, everything came crashing down. I ended up duct-taping its feet to the floor, so it was really a modest beginning.

When were you first introduced to your mentor’s work, Everett Raymond Kinstler?

Chief Justice Sandra Day O'Connor by Michael Shane Neal

In 1977, as a boy, when I went on a trip with my parents to Washington, D.C., and we did the White House tour. I was able to get a souvenir booklet of all the portraits of the presidents, and when I looked at the portrait of Gerald Ford, painted by Kinstler, I knew there was something about it that was so different. It appeared to me to be more painterly, more expressive.

Ten years forward, I’m studying with the artist, Dawn Whitelaw. She was my first painting instructor, and it was at one of her workshops in Maine I first learned who Ray Kinstler was. She told me “You have a natural painterly style, his painting would appeal to you.” As soon as I could I went to the library and found his book, “Painting Portraits,” and sat there reading, and never stopped. I must have checked that book out at least five or six times. That first day, as I walked down the steps of the library, I said to myself: “I would love to paint like this.”

Michael Shane Neal with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

A couple of years later, in 1990, by that time I had developed a huge affinity for Kinstler’s work and for the master painter, John Singer Sargent, it was by chance or fate, I was introduced to a friend of Kinstler. She told me she would be happy to talk to him about me, and gave me his personal phone number. When I finally called Ray, he said, “The next time you're in New York, give me a call.”

At that time, Ray was just beginning his relationship with Peggy, which is now twenty-five years ago, and he was just leaving town when I finally got to New York City. So he asked me to send him a few photos of my paintings, which I did. I also included a little charcoal drawing I did of him.

Michael Shane Neal painting Senator Robert C. Byrd

Well, when they got back to town, Peggy showed Ray the large envelope I had sent, and when they looked at my address, he told her, “I don’t know anyone in Nashville.” But after they opened the package and he saw my little drawing of him, and my work, he seemed to take an interest in me - and now it’s been over twenty-five years since our friendship began.

How would you describe the impact he has had creatively on your work?

It has affected my growth as a person; he’s been a “father- figure” to me. Whether you’re an actor or a writer or a painter, the world is so different when you have someone who takes an interest in your work. I was craving to know what it was like to be an artist; I had never walked into an artist’s studio. Suddenly I meet a person who takes an interest in my development, it was life-changing.

offical portrait of Sr. Malcolm Colquhoun, 9th Baronet, 31st of Colquhoun,
33rd Laird of Luss Scotland

He gave me advice, showed me how he developed his skills; in many ways, I learned my skill “at the masters’ feet.” I learned how he kept at the top of his career, how he developed his work to get such expressive portraits.

I learned a lot of it has to do with being a “people person.” One of the pre-requisites to being a portrait painter is you need to spend time with the people you’re painting. The way Ray engages with those he has painted, it changes the outcome of the painting; I’ve watched him for years. He has changed me in the way of appreciating the people I paint.

Even at ninety years of age, he goes into his studio every day with a deep kind of commitment, with will power and determination.

When you were painting your portrait of Mr. Kinstler, you quoted the artist, Robert Henri, who said: “You have to find a good place to stop.” You’ve also said: “The portrait is a memory, a record of this time and this place in my life…” We see this also in portraits by Rembrandt, Goya, El Greco, Le Brun, Van Gogh, Gilbert Stuart, John Singer Sargent, among others. Is that what you’re striving to reveal through your portraits?

I do hope that each of my portraits has a feeling of the personality of the person as much as their external likeness. There is also another level which goes beyond, like the portraits Ray Kinstler does. You see it, for example, in the portrait he did of John Wayne, in the way in which he painted his eyes. Kinstler has said the features are not exact measurements, yet what he got is who John Wayne was.

With each of my portraits, I strive to capture a feeling of what it would be like if you were to meet that person. It’s a step beyond just doing a portrait. It comes from an intuitive reaction one has. I’m after a bigger impact than just a surface representation of the person.

Do you prefer to use a particular canvas and brush?

I’ve been using the same canvas for years, which is also the same canvas Ray Kinstler uses. It’s made by a company named A.E. Art Canvas - I use number ninety on their list. It’s a single-lined linen, which thrives when you use a variety of colors.

 

Michael Shane Neal with Richard Thomas and Mr. Neal's portrait

I prefer Silver Gran Prix brushes and the Rosemary brushes collection. I like using a filbert brush, which I feel is the most versatile of all the brushes I use. I always lean to using larger brushes to get more of a broad stroke.

You’ve also done some very striking landscape paintings. What draws you to want to paint a particular scene you find in nature?

Usually it’s driven by the light I see. It might even be the lack of light, or the harshness or coolness on water or how light is striking an object. I'm attracted to color and light, or a combination of shapes may appeal to me. It might also be an infinity for a landscape I see before me. My family is Scottish, and I just love the landscape in Scotland; its coolness and how it makes me feel, so I try and capture it.

What keeps you curious, growing as an artist, and is that part of what makes you a good portrait painter?

I think that kind of curiosity will never leave me. I’m always curious about who the next person will be that I’ll paint, and what can I understand about them; I’m always eager to learn something deeper.

I feel that painting portraits is very much like how an actor prepares for a role on stage. I become totally focused on understanding who they are, how they talk and sit in a chair, their gestures and mannerisms, how they walk, their pace of movement and speech, how they wear their clothes. Sometimes I find I’m so in tune with my subjects that once they leave the studio I find I can do a pretty good impersonation of them. I’m always fascinated by what drives them, by what has made them who they are.
I’ve been fortunate to paint people in my career who are the best at what they do, and that this has led to their having a portrait done of them. A professor once remarked to Ray, “I may have a double Ph.D,, but you’ve gotten an education beyond my wildest dreams, getting to know all the subjects you’ve painted. It’s probably equal to a double Ph.D!”

I feel it’s true when an artist works to “peel back the layers of onion” of the subject matter before him through the creative pursuit. I think so often about John Singer Sargent, when he was looking at Rembrandt’s work and I’m paraphrasing: “I know what Rembrandt's saying with his painting but I have no idea how he did it.” Thats the thing that rivets me in the pursuit of understanding. •


 


"It is a law of life that man cannot live for himself alone. Extreme individualism is insanity. The world's problems are also our personal problems. Health is achieved through maintaining our personal truth in a balanced relation of love to the rest of the world. No expression is more emblematic of this relation than the creative act which we call art. No art by its very constitution typifies the social nature of that creative act more than the theatre. The theatre, to be fully understood and appreciated, must be seen as a manifestation of this process of interchange between society and the individual. It must be judged as a continuous development of groups of individuals within society, a development which becomes richer, acquires greater force and value as it grows with the society in which it originates. Only in this way can the theatre nourish us.  - Harold Clurman

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