Artist Everett Raymond Kinstler passed away on May 26, 2019, at the age of 92. Known as Ray to his friends, he was one of the few of his generation whose work encompassed the pulps, comic books during the Golden Age, and portraiture, the later his mainstay for over 50 years, going on to paint the official portraits of eight U.S. presidents.
I had the great opportunity to spend an afternoon with Ray in spring 2018, at his studio in the National Arts Club in Manhattan, in theory to interview him about his work in comics. Rather than Q & A, he regaled me for hours with detailed stories of his career, friends and acquaintances, and subjects. The latter included his long standing friendships with John Wayne and James Cagney.
Kinstler was Born in 1926 in New York City. Dropping out of the High School of Music and Art at age 16, he soon found work in the pulps, making $8.50 to $10 an illustration. Able to work fast, he could illustrate three a day, making as much as $150 a week in the early 1940s. He continued his studies at the Art Students League of New York and the National Academy of Design.
He soon moved on to the the nascent comic book industry, working across genres including westerns, crime, science fiction, mystery, romance and war. While he did produce a modicum of work for Atlas and DC, he mainly worked for the lower tier of comic book publishers, Avon, Dell/Western, St. John Publications, and others, intentionally. “I always like signing my name. When I was at DC their policy was you did not sign your name. And it bothered me”.
A Mass-Market Mixed Bag
He was drafted in 1945, but the war soon ended, so he was stationed at Fort Dix New Jersey, where he processed discharge papers for the soldiers returning home. He did create a comic strip for his camp newspaper strip and continued his freelance illustration work while there.
A restless creative spirit, in short notice he was also illustrating mass-market paperback covers, before settling in as a portrait artist in the 1950s. He also had a long standing friendship with the often taciturn illustrator James Montgomery Flagg which began when he showed his work to Flagg at age 17. Flagg, not known for his politeness or positivity, encouraged him, “Young fella, you are doomed to be an illustrator”.
Those who sat for their portraits reads like who’s who of the twentieth century: Clint Eastwood, Dave Brubeck, Tom Wolfe, Carol Burnett, Peter O’Toole, Paul Newman, Katherine Hepburn, Salvadore Dali, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ayn Rand, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, high school friend Toni Bennett and the current resident of the White House, more than 1,200 portraits in all. In addition, he painted landscapes and watercolors.
He taught at the Art Students League from 1969 to 1974 and his work is in the permanent collections of the National Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the Butler Institute of American Art. He was awarded honorary doctorates by Rollins College, the Lyme Academy College of Art, and The Academy of Art University in San Francisco .
Highly recommended is Jim Vadeboncouer Jr. and Everett Raymond Kinstler’s Everett Raymond Kinstler: The Artist’s Journey Through Popular Culture 1942-1962.