Last year, Susan Stedman guest-curated a spectacular exhibition for the Art Students League of New York, titled, Creating Community. Cinque Gallery Artists. The exhibition surveyed the work of 39 selected artists who participated in the collaborative enterprise during its 35-year run. It was there that we first encountered Otto Neals’ remarkable sculptures, and we are delighted to share that PFF has acquired three of his pieces since then!
Otto Neals is a self-taught artist whose natural talents were matched by years of hard work. He has used a range of materials throughout his career, including watercolor, oil, pastels, mixed media collage, as well as clay, bronze, wood, and stone sculptures.
Neals emerged through the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and was actively involved in artist groups and collectives. His circle of friends, mentors, and collaborators included Vivian Schuyler Key, Jacob Lawrence, Ernest Crichlow, Emma Amos, and Charles Alston. He was a member of the Weusi Artist Collective in Harlem, Spiral, AfriCOBRA, and Cinque Gallery. He also founded Weusi’s Nyumba Ya Sanaa Gallery. Despite his demonstrated artistic skills, Black artists in the 20th century struggled to receive mainstream recognition, and Neals was not able to sustain himself through art alone.
In 1951, Neals joined the General Post Office in Brooklyn and was drafted into the U.S. Army the following year. At the end of his service, he returned to the Post Office and joined the art department as a sign painter, eventually becoming the department’s head illustrator.
In 1997, the Prospect Park Alliance and the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation held a competition for artists to design one of the characters from Keats’ children’s books for Prospect Park’s Imagination Playground. Otto Neals submitted a design of the Peter & Willie statue that was warmly received and still remains a beloved fixture on the playground today.
Otto Neals is represented by Dorsey Art Gallery in Brooklyn. His work can be found in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, Howard University, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Ghana National Museum, the Columbia Museum, and the private collections of Congressman John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, and Oprah Winfrey.
You can learn more about Otto Neals in this article: myauctionfinds.com/2021/02/01/the-mystical-talents-of-artist-otto-neals/