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Week of 12 February 1999

Vol. II, No. 23


Raymond Kinstler -- a thriving artist

By J. Nicole Long

High school dropout Everett Raymond Kinstler found instruction -- and success -- in his love of art.

Kinstler's current exhibition, Fifty Years: An Artist's Journey, at Boston University's 808 Gallery through February 25, is a retrospective of decades of work. In addition to several of his portraits, comic book drawings (dating from the beginning of his career) and landscapes are also on display. "This is not a portrait show," says Kinstler. "It's personal. It represents the signposts along the way during a 50-year journey."

Raymond Kinstler with his portrait of Katharine Hepburn at the opening of his exhibition Fifty Years: An Artist's Journey, on Saturday, February 6, at the 808 Gallery. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Kinstler describes his motivation toward art as "the consuming desire to draw since the age of five or six." As a boy, he spent every spare moment at movie theaters, and would return home to draw movie stars from magazines. As an adult, Kinstler has painted celebrities from life, among them Katharine Hepburn, Paul Newman, and John Wayne. "It was in 1978 that I went to California to paint John Wayne," he says. "I had been told that he wore a toupee. When I met him, I was like that child in the movie theater again. I sat next to him, mesmerized by his broad shoulders and size, and" -- laughing -- "his immaculate hairline."

Kinstler's keen interest in the human form has been the mainstay of his livelihood ever since the beginning of his career. At the age of 16 (when he decided to leave school and commit himself to art), he answered an advertisement for an apprentice inker, paying $18 a week, in New York City, where he was born and still lives. A year later, while continuing to work six days a week, he took freelance assignments for the pulp magazines Doc Savage and The Shadow. Meanwhile, he continued to draw comics, such as Zorro and Hawkman, and numerous action strips. "Assured of a freelance income, I left my first and last salaried job at the age of 17 to go it alone," Kinstler says.

On the advice of his colleagues, Kinstler returned to school, and joined the Art Student's League. In 1945, however, he was drafted into the army and never returned to school. Discharged from military service in 1947, Kinstler began illustrating book covers. Throughout his career, his art has appeared on the book jackets of authors such as D. H. Lawrence, Somerset Maugham, Aldous Huxley, and John Jakes, author of North and South and the biggest paperback seller before James Michener.

But the life of an illustrator was radically changing by the 1950s. Kinstler drew bottles for the Coca-Cola Company and he drew for book publishers, but, he found, there was one surefire way to make a dime. "We were always between jobs," he says. "We had a saying 'If you can do cowboys and cleavage, you can make a living.' " That approach was popular for a time, although it was short-lived. The proliferation of photography and the growing sophistication of graphic design in the 1950s began to overshadow the impact of illustration.

Kinstler was not troubled by the changes technology imposed on his career, however. "Every generation neces