Photo by Galab Bankov

Photo by Galab Bankov

“To capture my true, natural, lifelike aesthetic, I create a visual dialogue with my subjects by studying their expressions
through observations over time. The end result is a cohesive compilation of the subtle changes in gesture,
light and energy that I observe in a subject’s genuine movements.”


I'm currently working with figures and portraits and combine human forms with botanicals to explore our relationship with natural elements. Capturing the movement of the figure or an expression of a living soul presents endless possibilities and inspiration enabling me to blend with different themes.

I've studied classical methods of oil painting with a focus on the 17th century Dutch Masters. The subjects I am drawn to are individuals with character, athletic figures and blooming floral arrangements with elegance and ethereal beauty. The reference for my work comes from my direct observation of natural day light in my north light studio illuminating and blanketing the form of my subjects.

I am fascinated and challenged by the process of transforming a flat, blank canvas into the illusion of dimensional form, atmosphere and mood. That process is usually well thought out but sometimes painted direct and use intuition to complete my idea. Both of these methods present challenges but each way fills the void of the other and opens up the possibility of new visual ideas to meet my objective. 


For Michael Van Zeyl, portraiture is much more than a one-sided translation of the artist’s point of view taking form in a subject. It’s an engaging visual dialogue that renders a soul in light, shadow and pigment, continuing the conversation for future generations to appreciate.

While subtle observation and technical skill are only part of Michael’s gift, his experience has honed his craft to the highest standard. His talents were apparent by age seven and he spent subsequent decades mastering a wide range of painting techniques. In particular, 17th century Dutch and 19th century impressionist styles have resonated with him and surfaced in his own works.

His formal training began at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, continuing on at Chicago’s Historic Palette & Chisel Academy and the Art Students League in New York, where he studied with the most accomplished artists who also paint directly from life under natural light. Michael is currently a faculty and board member at the Palette & Chisel and has been the club’s most popular instructor for several years.

Michael’s work is already appreciated in many public and private collections, such as the United States District Court, University of Chicago, DePaul University School of Law, Chicago Theological Seminary and American Hotel Register. He has received awards from the Portrait Society of America, The Artists Guild, the Oil Painters of America and the 2014 recipient of the Dorothy Driehaus Mellin Fellowship for Midwestern Artists.