The genius of Otto Neals: painter, sculptor, printmaker

Eulene Inniss | 8/4/2016, 11:36 a.m.

Educators have long advocated for arts education. They see the lifelong lessons students learn: “practice makes perfect,” “collaboration leads to creativity,” “small differences can have large effects” and “there are several paths to problem solving.” Otto Neals, a native son of Lake City, S.C., is a painter, sculptor and printmaker who embodies all the qualities and values derived from his arts experiences.

In his Brooklyn community, the Prospect Park Alliance, along with the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, commissioned him to create a Bronze sculpture entitled “Peter and Willie,” based on the renowned children’s author’s works and illustrations. This sculpture, depicting a child reading with his dog, is located in the Imagination Playground in Prospect Park. For this work, Neals was presented the New York City Arts Commission’s “Award for Excellence in Design.” The site was dedicated as a literary landmark June 10, 2016. He was also commissioned to create 10 bronze plaques for the Harlem Walk of Fame, a sculpture for the Brooklyn Children’s Center, a 20-foot mural for Kings County Hospital and a recent bronze portrait of the late Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton for the City University of New York.

His works are also featured at the Library of Congress, the Columbia Museum of Arts in South Carolina, the Smithsonian Institution, the Huntsville Museum of Art in Alabama and the collections of Congressman John Lewis, jazz musician Randy Weston, actor/singer Harry Belafonte and Oprah Winfrey.

Neals talked about some of life’s challenges that helped shape his career. He had a love for the saxophone, but after many attempts at playing had to acknowledge that his strength was in the arts. After leaving the military service, he was employed at the General Post Office and for seven years persistently applied for a position in the art department but was denied. He was eventually assigned a position as a sign painter with union intervention and rose to the position of head illustrator before retirement.

A portrait of his hands was featured on the cover of Black Enterprise magazine. He is also featured in several publications, including “Black Artist of the New Generation” by Elton Fax, Ebony Magazine, the New York Daily News and The New York Times.

For young people, Neals has this message: “Always think positively. Do the right thing to increase your talent. We have all been granted talents by the Creator. We must build on them!”