Born in Passaic, New Jersey in 1912, East Coast painter, teacher, and illustrator Michael Insinna began making art at an early age. He studied at Cooper Union and the Art Students League in New York City during the 1940s and taught art at the Franklin School of Professional Arts, New York City after completing his studies. Michael also worked as an illustrator for the Museum of Natural History in New York creating books for various publishing companies during the 1940's and 1950's. His art teachers and mentors were Robert Brackman (instructor Emeritus and disciple of Robert Henri), Ivan Olinsky and William Zorach. His work was exhibited around New York and New Jersey, including the prestigious Montclair Art Museum, and at the Carnegie International Show in Pittsburg, PA alongside Salvador Dali, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe, and Andrew Wyeth.
In 1945 Michael met Eleanor “Cappi” Cappelletti, a fellow East Coast artist and student at the Art Students League. They would soon marry in New York in 1947. Her work is also featured in the Lost Art Salon collection, which you can view here. He painted throughout his career and in the 1970s his work shifted away from portraiture and realism towards abstraction.
Spurred on by his early passion for painting Michael applied and was accepted to study art at Cooper Union in 1932, a private college in the East Village of New York City. Whilst studying Michael supported his family through a period of economic hardship by working during the day and balancing it with taking classes at night. In 1943, Michael was awarded a scholarship to study at the Art Students League, an independent art school also in New York City. Here, under the tutelage of noted portrait painter Robert Brackman. His studies were interrupted when he was called to join the army in June 1943, serving as a Corporal during the Second World War. At the end of the war, Michael returned to New York City, resuming his studies with Brackman and other influential artists such as Ivan Olinsky, the portraitist, and William Zorach, known for his work as a sculptor. Brackman’s influence on Michael’s work is evident in the quality of light depicted in Michael’s portraiture, which also share a similar naturalism and brushstrokes. However, Michael’s body of work is distinct from his mentor’s in his incorporation of loose and gestural brushwork and noticeably brighter and more vibrant colors.
In 1948 Michael spent a summer studying at the San Miguel de Allende Art Institute with his wife Cappi, whom he met during his time at the Art Students League. This summer would leave an indelible mark on Michael’s work, influencing his choice of colors and figures for the rest of his career. After completing his formal arts education, Michael was offered a teaching position at the Franklin School of Professional Arts in New York City in 1949. During his five years at the Franklin School, he taught life drawing, anatomy, and composition.
In 1954, Michael began working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York from 1953 until 1967 as an illustrator in the department of Paleontology, studying and drawing fossils for museum publications such as the Natural History Magazine, Novitates, the museum’s news journal. During this period, he also worked as a freelance illustrator for various publishing companies illustrating both young adult and adult books. After 14 years at the Museum of Natural History he returned to teaching, joining the staff of the Famous Artists School in Westport, Connecticut in 1967-74.
Throughout his career Michael exhibited his work around New York and New Jersey, including the notable Montclair Art Museum in 1947, 1948, and 1949. He also showed his work at the National Academy of Design in the 123rd Annual Exhibit March 1947 and the Carnegie International Show, Painting in the United States 1949 in Pittsburg PA with the likes of Salvador Dali, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe, and Andrew Wyeth. While Michael’s early work showed a pronounced interest in realism and portraiture, likely due to the influence of his teacher Robert Brackman, then during the 1970s, his work shifted towards abstraction. Michael was an avid collector of art and books and continued painting until his death in 1976 in Westport, Connecticut at the age of 64.