The comedian who performed so many physical impressions now devotes long hours to his pictorial impressions of famous faces. Take to Nealon’s Instagram and you’ll see his skewed view of showbiz friends like Dana Carvey and Dave Chappelle, as well as Hollywood acquaintances like Lauren Bacall and Emma Stone. The performer has long relished making people loose — whether they’re strangers on a plane or castmates at a table read — but over the past few years the comedic has become quite seriously to learn to master the tools and techniques of caricature.
For decades, the art was “something to please me,” Nealon said by Manhattan’s Zoom, shortly before an appearance on a late-night show. “But the more I did it, the more people responded to it. You draw someone and people really appreciate it.
Now the 68-year-old Emmy nominee is sharing his art as a curated experience. His playful portraits of artists present and past will be featured in his first art book, the highly engaging “I Exaggerate: My Brushes With Fame,” which will be released on Tuesday.
Nealon says this collection was largely born out of the pandemic: “I started drawing a lot because I couldn’t do comedy. I realized that cartoons were non-verbal comedy.
Meanwhile, when he wasn’t posting seasons of his “Hiking With Kevin” video series online, Los Angeles-based Nealon painted people he had a direct connection to or whose professional work he admired, often both. Throughout the book, he mixes his predominantly numerical artwork with mostly personal anecdotes about the bold names in his orbit, whether it’s enduring turbulence with pilot John Travolta, playing basketball star-studded on Garry Shandling’s field or chill out at Brad Paisley’s Tennessee spread.
The country singer-songwriter got a close look at the actor’s passion for his craft after the coronavirus hit, as the Paisley and Nealon families isolated themselves together for several months. Paisley walked past his kitchen table to find his friend playing on his computer screen.
“He really works to capture the essence of a person,” Paisley says by phone from the Nashville area. So is Nealon’s portrait of Paisley a true depiction? “Yeah, unfortunately,” Paisley laughs, noting that his portrait cleverly reflects the way he smiles in concert when something particularly tickles him.
Paisley sees a connection between Nealon’s comedy and art. “He finds humor in some of the simpler things in life,” the singer says. “He’s able to take something that you might take as a basis for reality, and he exposes it as nonsense. And he did it with all of our faces. Paisley adds: “To be in his head is an existence that reflects fun.”
Nealon wryly acknowledges that the development of his eye for caricature has affected him: “Whenever I walk around, I don’t see people in their usual form. I see them with their exaggerated features.
The actor was inspired by another friend: the famous cartoonist Jason Seiler. “I can honestly say I was shocked when I saw Kevin’s work, and to be honest, a bit annoyed,” Seiler says, noting that the cartoon is more than just ridiculing a face. It requires capturing a person’s essence, likeness and feelings. This collective gift for rendering? Seiler says, “Kevin has it.”
Nealon has long been fascinated by the humorous line. His family split his time between Connecticut and Germany while his father worked in the helicopter industry, and Nealon vividly remembers discovering a cartoon on the back of a napkin as a child when he was on a base in Germany. The goofy cartoon ignited his imagination.
The same goes for the over-the-top pastel portraits in his boy’s bedroom. A Parisian artist had humorously rendered Nealon’s parents. “Subconsciously I was laying on my bed and watching them,” says Nealon, who also has a sister who is an artist. “I was studying how to make caricatures. I could see what he was doing with my father’s forehead or with my mother’s eyes.
Turns out songwriter Aimee Mann is pretty good at painting, too.
Nealon devoured Mort Drucker’s Mad magazine celebrity cartoons and loved the works of Al Hirschfeld. In high school, his marginal doodles were praised by teachers. He continued to draw lazily on the go. In the 80s, he also enjoyed talking about art with bandmate Phil Hartman, who before joining “Saturday Night Live” designed album covers for bands such as Steely Dan, Poco and America.
As Nealon decided to develop his talent in recent years, he took online lessons with master cartoonist Paul Moyse, who called Nealon an “exemplary” student. “His work already showed potential before he started, but he was determined to improve and worked hard to improve further,” Moyse says, noting that his student has “a great sense of likeness.”
Beyond his comedic sphere, some of Nealon’s art reflects his appreciation for musicians such as Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain, Prince, Tom Petty and his dear friend James Taylor. Vedder, songwriter and vocalist for Pearl Jam and Earthling, says he’s touched by the portrait, which impressed him because “it was one of the first times I saw one that captured me. “.
Speaking on the phone, Vedder points to Nealon’s attention to detail: “The woolen military socks I wear, the Boy Scout shirt, my teeth. I have longer fingernails on my right hand for guitar picking, and he did it very subtly. Even the feeling of hitting a note that requires significant effort: “I feel like it’s represented there.” The rock singer also appreciates the “good humor” of the work, down to the ukulele under his arm.
Because of the cartoon, Nealon also developed his friendship with fellow comedian turned visual artist: Jim Carrey. “Less than a year ago I met him at a party and we both started talking about our works. Within 15 minutes I connected with him more than the previous 38 years” , says Nealon, noting that Carrey invited him into his home studio and shared his belief that art and artists, more than actors and singers, can be immortalized. Art, says Nealon, “brings together the people”.