Everett Raymond Kinstler, who went from drawing Zorro and Hawkman to painting hundreds of portraits of the glamorous and powerful, including several American presidents, died on Sunday in Bridgeport, Conn. He was 92.
His wife, Peggy Kinstler, said the cause was heart failure. Mr. Kinstler had homes in nearby Easton, Conn., and Manhattan.
Attracted to art from an early age, Mr. Kinstler dropped out of high school at 15 to work in the comic-book industry, illustrating lots of western sagas but also titles like Space Detective and Hawkman. After 12 years, he left that field to do magazine and book covers and, increasingly, portraits. He was soon in demand for those and began to attract marquee names.
“The first big one was astronaut Scott Carpenter” — the second American after John Glenn to orbit the earth — in 1963, he told The New York Times in 1997. “That was a high spot in my career, when Carpenter posed in the spacesuit.”
Celebrities like Katharine Hepburn, James Cagney and Carol Burnett would soon come along. So would sports figures like Arthur Ashe, Tommy Lasorda and Byron Nelson.
And there were also the presidents, Richard M. Nixon being the first. Mr. Kinstler painted not only Nixon, but also nine members of his cabinet. His presidential portfolio eventually included Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and both Bushes.
Two of those works — of Reagan and Ford — are the official presidential portraits kept at the White House. Mr. Kinstler also painted Donald J. Trump, but before he became president.
The National Portrait Gallery in Washington has 84 of Mr. Kinstler’s works in its collection, a spokeswoman said.
“There is nothing static or stultifying about Kinstler’s art because it is full of life,” Amy Henderson, historian emerita at the National Portrait Gallery, wrote in the catalog for “America Creative: Portraits by Everett Raymond Kinstler,” a recent exhibition organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery. “Somehow, his brush strokes capture personality in sweeping gestures: His paintings are more character ‘portrayals’ in a theatrical sense of revelation than frozen-in-granite ‘portraits.’ ”
Some of Mr. Kinstler’s famous subjects became his friends. In one case, at least, it was the other way around: A friend from his school days, Tony Bennett, became famous and sat for Mr. Kinstler. Mr. Bennett, who was best man at Mr. Kinstler’s second wedding, in 1996, is a decent painter himself, an interest he furthered by studying with Mr. Kinstler.
“He was my greatest friend and my greatest teacher,” Mr. Bennett said on Wednesday.
Everett Raymond Kinstler was born on Aug. 5, 1926, in Manhattan. His father, Joseph, was in the textile business, and his mother, Hazel (Abramson) Kinstler, was a homemaker.
Mr. Kinstler grew up in New York City and attended the School of Industrial Art in Manhattan before dropping out just before his 16th birthday to take a full-time job at a comic-book publishing house in Midtown. At first he would ink in the drawn outlines made by more senior artists, but soon he was doing his own pencil work as well.
Though he was having success in comics, at 17 he began taking art classes as well so that he could learn to draw human figures. Those classes and the “cowboys and cleavage” (as he put it) that he was drawing for comic books gave him the tools he needed for the next phase of his career.
“When I got into portraiture, it was a natural progression,” he said. “I loved interpreting people. You’re not painting types, you’re painting individuals.”
Mr. Kinstler joined the Army near the end of World War II. After serving at Fort Dix in New Jersey from 1944 to 1946, he returned to the comic-book business. He did a lot of work for Avon Comics, he said, because unlike some other imprints it allowed artists to sign their work. (Early in his career he used the name “Everett Raymond” for brevity’s sake, though eventually he switched to his full name.)
As the 1950s advanced, portrait work would replace comic books as his main source of income. Many portraitists survive by doing posthumous portraits, painting someone’s dead loved one, but in a telephone interview Mrs. Kinstler said her husband rarely took such assignments once his career gained traction.
“When he got to the point when he didn’t have to do that anymore, he didn’t unless it was really unusual,” she said, “because he wanted that human connection.”
Mr. Kinstler, she said, had a response whenever someone would ask how long it took him to make a portrait: about 80 hours, or “a lifetime and a weekend.”
Mr. Kinstler said that though he painted some polarizing politicians and other controversial figures, he tried to remain dispassionate.
“That’s what it’s all about, telling a story about the person, not judging them,” he told The Easton Courier of Connecticut in 2016. “That I leave up to somebody else.”
Mr. Kinstler’s first marriage, to Lea Nation, ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters from his first marriage, Katherine Kinstler Fuertes and Dana Kinstler Standefer; three stepchildren, Maggie, Tyler and Sam Chartier; five granddaughters; and four step-grandchildren.
Ms. Kinstler said her husband, though affable in the studio, was confident in his skills even if the subject was prickly or controlling, as was the case with James Schlesinger, Nixon’s secretary of defense. After sitting for several sessions in a light suit, she said, he inspected Mr. Kinstler’s work and announced that he wanted to be pictured in a dark suit instead. Mr. Kinstler’s response?
“Everett looked at him and said, ‘The brush stops here.’ ”