Interview With Artist/Musician Michael Cartellone
The Creation Of The 'On The Road' Series
Greetings - As those of you who visit the RockPoP Gallery site and have read my past interviews know, my focus has been on trying to elevate the status within the fine art world of people who earn their living creating the artwork and photography that grace your favorite album/CD covers and other music-related promotions and packaging. Most everyone who I've interviewed in the past has been firmly rooted in "the graphics side" of the discussion (with the exception of musical artist Shawn Brice, who was interviewed after he'd won an Independent Music Award for his photography/package design).
This interview, though, is quite special, as it is with someone who has earned much praise from his fellow musicians and continues to enjoy a fantastic career as the drummer for some of the most popular musical acts of all time, including his present gig as the drummer of 2006 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Lynyrd Skynyrd.
That's right - we're talking this time with Michael Cartellone, who's recorded and toured with an amazing list of acts, covering all genres of music - John Fogerty, Peter Frampton, John Wetton, Freddie Mercury, Cher, Adrian Belew, Accept and, my favorite multi-platinum "supergroup," Damn Yankees.
As busy as he is with his musical career, Michael's first love was painting, and while his career kept him on the road constantly, he found himself relaxing and refocusing his energies by painting in his hotel rooms and on the tour bus. As it is that he works to create hyper-realistic images of life on the road (hence, his most recent prints, which are featured on a new 30th anniversary Lynyrd Skynyrd greatest hits compilation, are named the "Road Series"), I'm not quite sure just how he relaxes while he works, but let's ask him.
[Mike G] Michael, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today about your work, and particularly, the Road Series prints. Tell us, how long does the production process take - from start (i.e. concept) to finished product? Which one took the longest, and why?
Michael Cartellone I spent three years painting the five Road Series paintings. Each painting took between three and six months to complete. As a rule, I paint slowly, plus, the level of detail I like to achieve simply takes time. This time frame was slowed down a little, as I was painting while the band toured - literally painting in hotel rooms during my free time. There were days on end when I couldn't paint because of travel, etc., and so, that made the process stretch out even more. I should mention that I painted the John Lennon portrait on the road, also.
Anyway, I started with the Red painting, which actually took the longest to complete. There was a learning curve to contend with. For example, the Skynyrd logo, which appears in every painting, took two weeks to paint the first time, but by the last painting I did it in three days. Also, I was blazing the trail for the overall look of the series, which took a little time to solidify.
Once I began painting the keys on the laptop, it became apparent to me that I had entered the realm of photo-realism and there would be no turning back. I was actually so bold as to take five canvases with me at the beginning of that tour in 2000, thinking I would finish all five paintings during that six month tour. Of course, I was still working on just the Red one when the tour ended! It turned into a running joke - that it would take me years to finish all five - and of course it did.
So, of the five paintings, the hardest and most time-consuming thing to paint of the five paintings was the cymbal in Blue. Those curved ridges took a full month to paint.
[Mike G] So, was your approach to these works influenced by anyone else's album cover or other work? How were those works influential and how did they show up in your final product?
Michael Cartellone Initially, the idea to paint on the road while touring stemmed from a painting I was working on during the off season. It's a large 30" x 40" canvas that was unfinished - and still is unfinished - as the tour approached, but I thought I'd take it on the road and keep painting. I even looked into having a case built for travel, but I quickly realized that was not practical. However, the idea to paint on tour had been planted.
So, one morning, literally as I was doing sit ups, I was thinking "what should I paint on the road?" Then like a gift from above, it popped into my head - "Well, why not paint the road?" I began seeing these images in my head of different behind the scenes views of life on tour. I should mention that the final paintings didn't stray far from this initial vision.
When the tour began, I went out with all my art supplies and a Polaroid camera. I spent about a week, taking assorted photos for reference of the images which had popped into my head, and then I began painting.
As for being influenced, I should tip my hat to someone. Back in 1989, my old band Damn Yankees did an album cover photo session with a famous photographer named Ethan Russell. Any Beatle fan - like myself - would know Ethan from his work during the "Let It Be" era. Ethan knew I was into the Beatles - and specifically into Lennon - and he had given me a photo as a gift back then. It was taken during the Twickenham sessions and it showed a little table with Lennon's hand-written lyrics to "Don't Let Me Down" and a cup of tea. That photo has been packed away for years, but apparently the teacup stayed in my subconscious as I resurrected it as a cup of coffee in the Red painting. So, let me say "Thank You, Ethan."
[Mike G] While I understand that these images are supposed to represent different aspects of life on the road, I'm curious what it was that made you choose the specific subjects to do each year. Was there a particular event or experience that served as the inspiration of the art/design?
Michael Cartellone Well, as mentioned before, I didn't really choose these images. I just created a process to paint the images as they were presented to me. That said, one painting actually did develop by choice. During the week I was taking all those photos, I walked into the dressing room and saw the hat rack standing there, with the hats that (LS bassist) Leon Wilkeson would wear onstage. I thought it was a great, behind the scenes view and needed to be included. I should mention that I swapped out some of the hats on the hat rack before I took the photo. I simply thought some were more interesting than others.
This painting turned out to have much more meaning in the end. As I was still painting it, Leon unexpectedly passed away. It was very sad, as he was one of the kindest souls I'd ever known. So, what had started as just another backstage view turned into an unplanned Tribute to Leon. I miss him.
[Mike G] So, let's get technical for all of the art geeks in the audience. What sort of equipment was used to create the final product - camera, materials, PC, software, etc., and how did the use of these items effect the finished product?
Michael Cartellone Although I don't have specific info on the equipment used, I can tell you the process was: we digitally scanned each painting on a flatbed scanner, then the printer would make an 8" square print for reference. Holding that print side by side with the actual canvas, I would point out areas that needed adjustment (darker or lighter to bring out brushstrokes that didn't translate, color matching, etc.). I remember we did four versions before the shade of Red was correct. Just as with the learning curve of painting, by the time we got to the fifth canvas reproduction, we nailed it quickly.
There are two differences between the prints and the Original canvases. I had them add the black pinstripe outline to the prints - this represents that I had painted the edges of the canvases black- so my eye was used to seeing a black border around the work. The other difference is size. The canvases are 18" square, but I reduced the prints to 15" square so they would fit on a 16" x 20" paper.
[Mike G] Has your work been used by Lynyrd Skynyrd (the band) - on packaging, on stage, in any other promotional way?
Michael Cartellone Yes, the Road Series paintings appear in a CD. Universal Records London, which is a sister-label to our label in the states, has released a Greatest Hits compilation. The label contacted me to ask if they could license the work and place it throughout the CD booklet. Their idea was that it would help tie the current band to the historical band. I was flattered, of course.
[Mike G] Also a great honor in light of the fact that Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year, so there was renewed interest in their recordings! OK, so now I want to move on to the "let's get to know Michael Cartellone, the artist" part of the discussion. So, in your opinion, what made you - as both a musical artist and the one who created the artwork shown here - different from other artists in your "category" (or of this moment in time in the music business)?
Michael Cartellone There are plenty of great musician/artists out there: Ronnie Wood, Grace Slick, Paul McCartney, David Bowie and so on. I think the musical differences between myself and those artists are obvious. But honestly, I wouldn't even have the audacity to compare myself musically to people like McCartney and Bowie.
However, talking fine art, I feel right in the game alongside all the above. In fact, I'm now being presented in galleries side by side with these artists. My artwork is different stylistically from that list, also. With the Road Series, I ventured into a style that was part photo-realism, part pop art. That was new ground, in my opinion.
[Mike G] Can you give me any additional special insight into your inspirations as a musician and a fine artist?
Michael Cartellone If I try to target what inspires me musically and artistically, it's simply listening to other's music and viewing other's art. Specifically, the Beatles and Bowie, musically, and Magritte, Seurat, Norman Rockwell and M.C. Escher, artistically. Interestingly enough, sometimes music inspires me to paint and art inspires me to drum. I really consider these two parts of my life, two halves of a whole. They absolutely coexist and compliment each other.
[Mike G] What do your band members think of your work? Have any of them shared their feelings about your art or the time you spend doing your art?
Michael Cartellone All the Skynyrd band members - and, for that matter, the Damn Yankees alumni, too - have been very supportive of my Art. Everyone has my work in their homes, in fact. While painting on the road, occasionally someone will stop by my room to see the progress of a given painting. I think it intrigues them because it's so different from how they spend their free time. I had an Art Gallery reception one night on tour in Phoenix and most of Skynyrd showed up. It was very cool of them.
[Mike G] What's next for Michael Cartellone - the drummer AND the artist? Which do you think you'll be doing longer?
Michael Cartellone The drummer in me is about to have some time off, as this year's Skynyrd tour winds down. I keep very busy at home in New York City though, doing freelance recording work and occasionally playing club dates with friends for fun.
The artist in me is always busy. I plan to finish the painting I've been working on during this tour, which is a Carousel. I've had this idea in my head for 10 years and have finally put it to canvas. Also, the large canvas I mentioned earlier is 50% finished and I'll dive into that one. That painting is a New York City street scene, set in the 1920s. It's a real undertaking - old cars, buildings, people in period dress, billboards, etc. I'm very proud of that canvas and plan to market it as I have with all the others.
As for which I'll do longer, it simply comes down to the physicality of my body. I love drumming and will do it as long as I can pick up the sticks. Needless to say, paintbrushes are lighter!
Author's note - I met Michael last year after he had shown his works in a high-end gallery in NYC (where he lives when he is not on the road) and we decided to work together to bring prints of his work to art lovers and fans alike. You'll find them on our site via this link (or use the Advanced Search feature and select Michael Cartellone from the pull-down menu).
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