I pulled up my chair, sat down, and stared directly into John Lennon’s eyes. Over my right shoulder, Neil Young’s face was awash in a glowing orange-red. To his right was Jim Morrison in full beard, and there was George Harrison and Bono, Dylan and Bob Marley, too. Surrounded by the faces of the rock and roll icons, I adjusted my chair and began my morning interview with Patrick Carney, the artist and creator of these dynamic images. To be able to sit with the local man whose paintings are displayed in the personal collections of Dick Clark, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger had me more than a little excited.
When was the moment that you decided okay, I’m just going to paint musicians?
“It was two things: number one, when the Beatles arrived in America and I started drawing them and that really started to turn some heads. And number two, my senior piece at the New York School of Visual Arts was Bob Dylan, and Bob Dylan’s people saw it and came by and got it. It was then I started thinking maybe I could do this for a living.”
Who was the first musician you ever painted?
“The first musician I ever painted was Mose Allison. In ’64 I was hanging out in the clubs in the West Village of New York City. It was not very hard back then to get in being underage, because they were like beatnik clubs, serving more coffee, wine and cheese. They just passed the hat, it was that type of thing.”
So it was the success of the Dylan piece that caused you to paint only musicians?
“No, I didn’t have any money coming out of art school so I was looking around for what I could do to kick start this, and I saw an ad for a driver needed to drive an executive from Greenwich, Connecticut into the city each day and drive him back out. So, they said the job was mine if I cleaned up a little (cut my hair, trimmed my beard). And during the interview, I convinced them that I would do that if I could have a studio set up when I wasn’t driving. They agreed; it was perfect. And, to my surprise, I ended up driving for H. Ross Perot and his executives, and within a year and a half, I had produced enough paintings to go out on my own.”
Was it because you felt you could make money painting musicians that you went in that direction?
“It had nothing to do with money. It never had anything to do with money. It probably should have, but that was never the deciding factor. The factor was that I so loved the music, and I so loved being around the scene. And at that point in my life, I already had easily 5,000 albums and 7,500 45’s from the 50’s and 60’s. The choice was easy.”
Is there anyone you can’t paint? Someone you have a real hard time capturing?
“Extremely hard (and has always been hard) to paint is Paul McCartney young. Because other than great eyes, he really doesn’t have features. I must have thanked him a thousand times once he grew a beard.”
Is that what it is about for you? Are the features the most important part?
“In my style, I work with shapes rather than the actual features, to create the mood, the essence, and capture the vibration of the individual.”
Who is your favorite artist to paint?
“Dylan, because there are just so many different looks, so many different sides to him.”
At this point in the interview, Patrick and I got into a great discussion about Bob Dylan. Anytime I can sit and talk with someone who knows and appreciates Dylan, I’m pretty much in heaven. But what the conversation really did for me was to give me insight into just how much music really means to Patrick and how he is professing that love for it through each of his paintings. It was inspiring to be able to hear these stories while surrounded by his work. All of these faces of rock and roll icons, the rich colors that Patrick chose and the depth of each piece–they had begun to carry that much more meaning.
Best compliment you have ever received from an artist?
“Recently, it was Livingston Taylor, James Taylor’s brother. He told me that I really captured his inner soul.”
What is the best tip anyone has ever given you about painting?
“Probably the best one I ever received was from a non-painter. He was an engineer type guy, when I was probably twelve, and he taught me perspective. At the time I was doing everything flat, and he asked me if I wanted to learn perspective. It was a real gift to learn it from an early age from someone who was a real thinker. And it’s funny, I caught up with him last year after all those years and I told him about it. He didn’t remember but he was touched that it had such a big impact on me.”
Can you give me a glimpse into your everyday? Do you wake up at a certain time? Are you very ritualistic in the way that you paint?
I usually start painting by 8 a.m. Before that, I go on Facebook, post the day in rock history with one of my paintings attached, and then, if I’m not doing a commission, I ask who people would like to see me paint. Right now, I have a list of about 60 requests.
Throughout the interview, as we spoke about his passion for painting, Patrick shared numerous stories about his life in rock and roll: the connection he developed with Bobby Fuller’s (I Fought the Law but the Law Won) 25 family members after he posted a picture of him drawing a sketch of Bobby; or the time when his work was displayed on a Pete Seeger tour and he got to experience the early stages of Don MacClain’s career; or when John Lennon was shot and his art that was being displayed at the gallery turned into a massive shrine of flowers, pictures and notes–so much so that it became dangerous to the patrons and he had to take it over to the Strawberry Field memorial; or when he left the door open to his hotel room, on a hot summer day in Pittsburgh, and The Temptations walked in, saw some of his paintings, and commissioned him on the spot to paint them. These were just a few of the great moments he shared. I probably would need a part two of this interview to do all of the tales justice.
Did you ever want to be a musician?
“I had a guitar growing up, but I was more accomplished as a painter. And I was surrounded by such great musicians then, and they were fascinated by what I could do and I was fascinated by them; it created great friendships.”
As we wrapped up the interview and I took a few pictures for this piece, I could feel the great friendships about which he spoke, all of these amazing encounters in Patrick’s work. There was history in the colors that ignited his canvases, decades of rock and roll history. Behind each swipe of the brush, there was a memory, a song, a moment. I’m grateful to have spent a few moments with this kind, ever-so-talented man, and his rock and roll life that is documented in his paintings and his soul.
Patrick Carney’s San Diego company is called Creative Star Art and you can find out more about him and see a great array of his work here.
Patrick posts the Day in Rock n’ Roll History and one of his paintings to accompany it on Facebook almost everyday and you can find that here.