OTTO NEALS IS A PAINTER AND A SCULPTOR , printmaker and illustrator, follows the traditions of contemporary Black art of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, addressing the political, cultural and personal conditions of people of
African ancestry. During his 40-plus year career, Neals mastered the printmaking techniques of drypoint, mezzotint, collography, etching, aquatint, and viscosity among others. His collages, watercolors and
sculptures are as masterful as his prints.
"My talent as an artist, I believe, comes directly from my ancestors. I am merely a receiver, an instrument for receiving some of those energies that permeate our entire universe, and I give thanks for having been chosen to absorb those artistic forces. I try to paint and sculpt African people, working always to portray those characteristics that are true of their beauty, their power, and their love. We are but shadows of those who have gone before us and before I enter the world of spirits, I hope by example, to touch a positive nerve in our youth."
Otto was born in South Carolina in 1930. At the age of four, he and his family moved north to New York, settling
in Brooklyn. Otto remembers his fascination with art beginning at four or five years old under the care of his
older cousin David, who used to sketch. He watched and imitated his cousin's drawing skills. While studying commercial art in high school, he developed his artistic talents on his own with encouragement from his teachers.
After graduating from high school in 1949, he worked at a few factory jobs before passing the exam for the United States Postal Service, where he began his career. Mr. Neals was employed at the Brooklyn Post Office for 36 years, working his way up to head illustrator. While there, he created hundreds of signs and illustrations for the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Long Island City postal branches. His favorite project is a beautifully carved 4' x 8' wood panel entitled "Spirit Of 76" based on the commemorative stamp issued that year for the 1976 Bicentennial.
Mr. Neals studied painting briefly at the Brooklyn Museum School with Isaac Soyer and printmaking at the Bob Blackburn Printmaking Workshop. In addition to painting, Neals is proficient in the graphic arts, viscosity printing, etching, woodcut, and lithography. His skills as a sculptor were basically self-taught, initiated through the painter and sculptor Vivian S. Key, who established herself during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's. It was she
who gave Otto a set of stone-cutting tools, encouraging him to work with stone sculpture. His commissioned bronze sculpture, 1995 - "Peter and His Dog," the beloved classic children's book character from Ezra Jack Keats, is now a permanent part of the Imagination Playground in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. For this, Neals was given
the NYC Arts Commission's award of excellence in design.
His works have been displayed in institutions, museums, galleries, universities and libraries across the country. In addition, his works are in public and private collections in Zambia, Barbados, Guyana, Italy, Ghana and the United States. As an historical footnote, Neals and Ernie Crichlow were the only two artists to have exhibited each year for thirty-five years in the Fulton Art Fair.
Neals’ work has been published in a number of books and periodicals, including: Black Artists of the New Generation by Elton Fax, and he is also listed in Who’s Who In American Art. He has illustrated several books including: The Adventure of Tony, David and Marc by Lenchen DeVane; We Are the Children of the Great Ancient Africans, by Barbara Jackson; and the African Heritage Cookbook, by Helen Mendes. He is also included in the “Portfolio of Art” in the August/September 1994 issue of American Vision magazine.
Neals has been commissioned by the New York City Parks Department to design and create a large bronze sculpture that is to be place in the Imagination Playground in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Along with other artists of his time, Neals is credited with helping to foster an African American art community as co-founder of cooperative groups and festivals such as Weusi and the Fulton Art Fair. Celebrity collectors of his work include Harry Belafonte, Oprah Winfrey, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, Congressman John Lewis and others.