LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — From Imagine Dragons to the Goodmans — even 13 Action News’ very own Tricia Kean — Neal Portnoy is a man on a mission to document Las Vegas entertainment history.
His illustrations are instantly recognizable, which is all the more impressive considering his top tool of choice.
"You put a brush in my hand and I’m basically useless," said Neal. "I don't have a feel for it.
But don't be fooled by his lack of brush strokes. Neal is a respected artist with work on display inside Allegiant Stadium and a gallery and studio not far from The Strat.
Inside Portnoy Gallery, you’ll find about 3,000 felt tip markers.
"I use all the markers,” he said.
His medium of choice is most commonly used for advertising in layout and design renderings, Neal says. But he uses markers to create realistic illustrations and caricatures of some of the most well-known figures in Las Vegas and across the United States.
"There's nobody in the country that does what I do."
Neal works closely with his wife, Dorothy, who’s the gallery administrator. She says that he typically uses Chartpak AD markers, which are made for art, but then again, in the case of Bob Marley, "This one he decided to do solely with the Sharpies.”
Every day, run-of-the-mill Sharpies.
Illustrator to the stars
Neal is a self-taught artist who moved to Las Vegas about five years ago with a dream.
"That dream was to become the illustrator to the stars,” Neal said. Throughout his almost 50-year career as an artist, it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t realized that dream already, at least to some extent.
"I've illustrated everybody from Frank Sinatra back in 1974, to Jack Nicklaus to Ted Williams to Jay Leno.”
Portnoy Wall of Honor: The who's who of Las Vegas
Shortly after moving to Las Vegas, the Portnoys created the "Portnoy Wall of Honor."
"When we first moved here he’s like, ‘Oh I want to meet so and so, so let me do a caricature of him,’" Dorothy said of how Neal started depicting some of the most recognized characters in the Las Vegas community.
On the wall, you’ll find dozens of familiar faces. The people who make Vegas Vegas.
People like Carrot Top, Penn and Teller, the Goodmans, even 13 Action News Anchor Tricia Kean.
"That is Mona,” Dorothy said, pointing to a woman with a silver tiara in her hair looking into a crystal ball.
Hanging on the wall above the door is a caricature of Mystic Mona, the Vegas psychic with her own radio show and who’s appeared on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in a bachelorette party bit from 2019.
"Mona stood up at the meeting one day and said, ‘You haven't arrived if you haven't been 'Portnoyed,’” Dorothy said with a smile. "So she is our founder of 'Portnoyed."
From there, they decided to create a wall of honor for all those who have been “Portnoyed," which eventually led to hosting an induction ceremony. Their first one ever was in 2018.
This month they held their fourth induction ceremony at the gallery with about 140 people in attendance, all there to celebrate the 2021 class of the “Portnoyed Wall of Honor.”
But, the ceremony also happened to be a very special day for Neal, too.
Mayor Goodman's proclamation
"I still get emotional when I say this," Neal told me.
"October 7, 2021, was proclaimed by Mayor Carolyn Goodman as ‘Portnoy Gallery Day’ in Las Vegas," he said. "Forever.”
Mayor Goodman was at the event and presented him the honor in person, calling Neal's artwork “fabulous.”
Imagine Dragons partnership, giving back
With all this influence he’s earned, Neal makes sure to use his talent to give back to the community, too.
"This is the original artwork," Neal said, laying out an illustration of one of the city's most successful rock bands. "The original will be signed up here by Imagine Dragons, auctioned off at their year-end gala to raise 100% of the proceeds."
That’s money that will go to the Tyler Robinson Foundation, a nonprofit started in part by Imagine Dragons to help families battle the costs of childhood cancer.
"My guess is, my guess is that Dan [Reynolds] is going to bid on this and want to own the original drawing,” Neal said, smiling.
The Rise Up Gala is on Friday, Oct. 22, inside the Wynn. The live auction kicks off at 7:15 p.m. followed by an acoustic performance from the band, which the nonprofit says will stream live online. You can learn more about that here.
But he doesn't need a black-tie affair to give back. Neal also likes to support young artists who visit his gallery.
He says he liked to bring them over to the drawing board.
"We do a piece of art together or they bring me something they wanted me to see," he said, "and I say, 'Would you mind if I put it on my kid's wall? Now you can go back to all your friends and say to them, you have a work of art in a gallery in Las Vegas!'”
How Neal became an entertainment artist
When Neal was a kid himself, he says he saw entertainment as his ticket to a better life.
"We grew up very poor," he said. "It was my way out of the projects, to be funny. I get out because of my baseball skills, developed artistic skills, and being funny is a way to, you know, get people off their base structure."
Decades later, he’s making some pretty big deals as an artist. Take the piece purchased by the Las Vegas Raiders for Allegiant Stadium, "Raiders Through the Years."
"It's the greatest names in Raiders history,” said Neal. He says the piece is the largest work of art in the stadium to date.
"It was a high-resolution scan," he explained. "The original was 18 by 24. It's 28 by 40 feet at Allegiant Stadium. So high-resolution scan, they blow it up, essentially becomes wallpaper. It's wallpaper."
More recently, Neal was a top-three finalist in Park West gallery’s Made in Vegas competition. He didn’t win the grand prize but he still landed a contract.
"They are the premier art gallery in the world and they want to represent me. How cool is that?”
See his work in person near The Strat
The Portnoys are in the process of expanding the gallery and Neal’s publicist, Ron Garrett, calls it a “must-see attraction” for locals and tourists in Las Vegas.
"It's worth visiting because you'll see things here that you can't see anywhere else," Garrett said. "All original art, all from the mind of Neal.”
All original and hundreds of them.
"I've illustrated about 300 of the entertainers here in Vegas in five years,” said Neal.
With so many pieces to explore, even the most seasoned Las Vegas travelers are bound to come across a local headliner as they've never seen them before.
Portnoy Gallery is located at 1537 West Oakey Boulevard in Las Vegas. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call (702) 685-2929 or visit portnoygallery.com to learn more.
This story is from our "Las Vegas Art Scene" segment in our newly-launched dedicated digital show "How to Vegas." Watch "How to Vegas" at 10:30 p.m. on Fridays -- and throughout the weekend -- using the KTNV app on your favorite streaming device.
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