Everett Raymond Kinstler and Anthony Benedetto are two friends ambling through an art gallery.
They are two old friends, who didn't know they were old friends until they were introduced 15 years ago.
"I walked into the studio and [Kinstler] said, 'You're Benedetto,'" Bennett recalls. The painter told him how old Bennett was and Kinstler proclaimed he was born on the same date of 1926 – 77 years ago -- but the crooner, who was born on August 3rd, was two days older.
"We've been hanging out ever since," Bennett says.
Both had gone to the same New York City high school for the arts.
"I probably passed him ... knew his name, but we didn't know each other," Kinstler says. "I was not quite 16 when I quit and Tony finished. And then through some coincidence we met. It was about more than 15 years ago. And, that's the end of the story."
But of course that's not the end of the story. Because each of them -- the graduate and the dropout -- went on to great things.
Everett Raymond Kinstler left school to illustrate comic books like "The Shadow." Today he's one of America's finest portrait painters.
He's painted a virtual gallery of 20th century America. Seventy of his works are in the Smithsonian's portrait gallery. Five U.S. presidents have posed for him, and his paintings of President Gerald Ford and President Ronald Reagan hang in the White House.
Anthony Benedetto grew up to be Tony Bennett -- keeper of the American songbook.
After all the recordings and all the awards, he's still on the charts. He still gives more than 100 concerts a year. His latest project features duets with k.d. lang.
But he's always said he has two careers. While Tony Bennett keeps singing, Anthony Benedetto is hard at work painting.
Bennett says, "My whole life I kept feeling, 'Gosh, I could have been a very serious painter.'"
He paints every day, wherever his concert tours take him: San Francisco, Japan, Italy. He's been recognized in museums, and as an official Kentucky Derby artist. When he's home in New York, he looks out his window at Central Park and paints. And watching over him are the portraits, and a photograph, of his friend Everett.
"My life is richer, fuller, more fun," says Everett. "I think as an artist, [my work] is greater because of this man. He's a fresh spirit, and I hate saying this in front of him … I just so admire his integrity, his honesty with his work and his sheer joy of doing it."
Bennett, that is, Benedetto, drops in on Kinstler's occasional master classes whenever he can. The singer says Kinstler taught him about the importance of lighting in paintings.
But the two friends talk about more than art.
"Oh, he loves music," Bennett says of Kinstler. "He's always asking me questions about music. It's that interplay that keeps us going."
The two say they enjoy the other's company and are bound by constant intellectual curiosity.
Listening to them while they paint in Kinstler's studio is like taking a tour through the history of Western culture. They discuss writer Mark Twain, actor Douglass Fairbanks Jr., politicians and, of course, music.
Although the world primarily knows one as a singer, and the other as a painter, the advice flows both ways.
The two concede that they are in the storytelling business.
"With Tony, when he sings, I sense I grew up listening to Tony," Kinstler says. "But as an artist, he's richer and deeper."
They are two old friends, at the top of their games, who have sort of a mutual admiration. But they keep pushing themselves to learn more, to do more.
"I always say, 'I'm not old, I'm getting old,'" laughs Bennett. "Because you never stop learning. It's beautiful."
And the two have fun, too.
For Further Information
Tonybennett.net: Biographical, discography and tour information on the legendary singer, Tony Bennett.
BenedettoArts.com: For more information and purchase information about the art of Anthony Benedetto, also known as Tony Bennett.
EverettRaymondKinstler.com: For biographical information of the portrait artist, Everett Raymond Kinstler.
Adelsongalleries.com: The art exhibit, Sargent's Women, opens November 12 at New York City's Adelson Galleries. This exhibit is a loan exhibition of approximately 50 oil paintings and watercolors from museums and private collectors.
ArtSpiritFoundation.org: "Everett Raymond Kinstler, An Artist's Journey" is an one-hour documentary on the life and work of Everett R. Kinstler -- produced by The Art Spirit Foundation -- Narrated by F. Murray Abraham with Tony Bennett, Tom Wolfe, Carol Burnett, President Ford, Astronaut Scott Carpenter and other American Icons.