By Patrick Prince
Michael Cartellone has given his musical talent to many a band in need of a professional drummer. He toured and recorded for acts as varied as Cher, Freddie Mercury, Adrian Belew and John Fogerty. He is the former drummer of ’90s hard rock supergroup Damn Yankees and German metallers Accept, and he is currently the drummer for Southern rock stalwarts Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Cartellone is also a gifted fine artist — a professional painter. His artistry covers all of his personal interests in pop culture and scenic landscapes, as well as portraits of rock and roll luminaries. The full range of his art can be seen on his website at www.michaelcartellone.com.
Goldmine has partnered with Cartellone’s charity of choice to auction off a canvas giclée (a digitally reproduced fine art print) of one of his pieces of art — a portrait of the legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd singer, Ronnie Van Zant (shown above). Proceeds will go to the Cancer Support Community (www.cancersupportcommunity.org), the largest professionally led nonprofit network of cancer support worldwide. The auction will officially kick off March 1 (but bids will be accepted now).
Goldmine interviewed Michael Cartellone about his drumming, artwork and this particular painting that will be auctioned.
GOLDMINE: Besides the obvious reasons, what made you choose to do a portrait of Ronnie Van Zant, and in this style, with this medium (acrylic)?
Michael Cartellone: Prior to painting Ronnie Van Zant, I had painted a portrait of Charlie Chaplin. The Chaplin was basically a soft focus, black and white portrait, with full-color, realistic eyes. I was very happy with the outcome of the Chaplin, so decided I’d do the same approach with Ronnie. As for the medium, I’ve worked with acrylic paint most of my life.
GM: You’ve commented that Johnny Van Zant shared vivid visual memories of his late brother Ronnie with you. Can you elaborate on this? How did this help with your portrait of Ronnie?
MC: Although I had a few photos of Ronnie for reference, I didn’t want to work from any one photo, wanting this to be an image of Ronnie that no one had ever seen. So, I created a composite of his face looking at various photos. I painted this in hotel rooms on days off, while the band (Lynyrd Skynyrd) was touring, so Johnny would come by my room often to look at the painting. His advice and memories of Ronnie was invaluable, offering details that photos could never give: the eyes need a few more green flecks of color… the beard stuck out a little more under his lower lip … that kind of thing.
GM: It’s quite a gift that you can paint in all different styles — expressionism, surrealism, pointillism, pixelism and realism, to name only a few. In fact, it is very impressive how you can mimic the masters. That’s not easy. For instance, you did a portrait of Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington in a Van Gogh style. Was there a reason why you chose that style to begin with?
MC: Thank you for the compliments. I’ve enjoyed experimenting with all styles and genres of art. This can especially be seen with “The Four Davids,” which I am very proud of. As for the Gary Rossington portrait, he and his wife, Dale, like myself, are huge Van Gogh fans. So, the idea to paint Gary in that style was an easy decision. The original painting hangs in their home, by the way.
GM: You’ve performed with countless bands in the studio and on tour. Do you count Lynyrd Skynyrd as one of your most treasured professional experiences?
MC: Of course. I could not be more proud to be in Lynyrd Skynyrd. Its been 22 years now and has been a wonderful experience.
GM: Were you a fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music before you joined up with the band?
MC: Yes. I had played all those songs in a garage band when I was 13 years old. Even now during a show, I can still look over at Gary Rossington as he plays the signature “Free Bird” guitar part and be amazed this is even happening.
GM: It appears that you do a lot of painting on the road, while touring. As you mentioned, this Ronnie portrait was done on the road — there’s a nice hotel-to-hotel breakdown of its progress on your website. Does fine art give you a way to relax and de-stress from the pressures of touring?
MC: Thanks for mentioning the hotel-to-hotel slideshow on my website, michaelcartellone.com. I don’t remember when, or why, it occurred to me to photo document the process of that painting, but I’m glad I did. There’s one photo, taken in a Canadian hotel room, where you see a window washer hanging from a harness outside my window. What you don’t see was the hilarious moment that preceded that photo, as I was sitting at the easel next to the window in my underwear. I’m not sure who was more startled when the window washer came into view! Anyway, yes, painting during a tour became the perfect, private, quiet balance to my very public and very loud life as a drummer.
LISTEN TO MICHAEL TALK MORE ABOUT THE RONNIE VAN ZANT PAINTING (AMONG OTHER THINGS) ON THE GOLDMINE PODCAST, BELOW.
GM: You chose acrylic as your medium. Is acrylic your personal preference? And is it easier to use acrylic on the road because it dries faster?
MC: I was taught in every medium. I first went to art school as a four-year-old, then studied throughout my elementary and high school years. Even though I learned oils, watercolors, airbrush, etc., I’ve always preferred acrylics. And yes, the fast drying time enabled me to paint on the road, knowing at end of the day I could pack it up and carry it to the tour bus.
GM: Is it fairly easy to carry around all the art supplies and an easel on tour? Maintenance of brushes and canvases, etc., can be hard, no?
MC: The paints and brushes carried in a little toolbox is easy. The collapsable easel in the carry bag is easy. But the canvases are another story, needing to be carefully moved. When I decided to paint Ronnie on the road, I had a heavy duty case made: foam lined, metal corners, removable lid with latches … it was 40 inches square and 7 inches deep. I imagine it was quite the sight as I would shuffle through hotel lobbies at all hours dragging this thing around.
GM: You also have a “Road Series” of paintings. Can you talk a little about those?
MC: As always, when I was home on a tour break, I would paint. I happened to be in a very focused painting time as the 2001 tour launched and was feeling it was unfortunate I had to stop that momentum.
Then I thought, why not paint on the road? But, what to paint on the road? Why not paint life on the road? One thought simply led to the other. So, I spent a few weeks taking photos on tour of my daily experiences: my hotel room desk and cup of coffee … the view outside the tour bus window … sitting behind the drum kit, etc., and came up with five different paintings. I tied together all of these behind-the-scenes glimpses with a tour laminate/pass, which I created (it wasn’t the actual laminate we were using). The laminate moves from scene to scene and is the through line of the works. The other fun inspiration was to make each painting a single, dominant color. So, I used the color spectrum: red, yellow, green, blue and purple. It took me two years to complete the five paintings, by the way.
GM: On a personal note, my favorite paintings are your John Lennon portraits inspired by Allan Tannenbaum photographs. Maybe it’s because John’s 80th birthday just passed or the sad reminder that it’s been 40 years since his death, but I found these extremely moving. Our readership is comprised of many Beatles fans. Are there any more portraits of John for purchase? Will you paint other Beatles members?
MC: I am also a huge John Lennon fan (and used to live on the same block as the Dakota). Allan Tannenbaum is an old friend of mine and like the Ronnie portrait, I looked at his various photos of John and created my own composite. I had the opportunity to meet Yoko Ono once, at a Grammy event, and gave her a little postcard reproduction of the painting. She had a very nice reaction and it was a cool moment. My John Lennon portrait has been made into a limited edition, signed and numbered canvas giclée, which is available from Wentworth Gallery (www.wentworthgallery.com), who represent my artwork. They also market my John Lennon “Pixelism” painting. If people are curious, I also did a few Beatle paintings on drumheads, which can be seen on my website (some of those have already sold). And, I am preparing to start a new Beatles painting, of them during the Fab Four era.
GM: Are there other rock musician portraits that you are currently working on or planning for a certain reason?
MC: I did a fun painting of Mick Jagger in 2019, which had a vivid red, black and white motif. And, the drumhead page on my website shows about 30 classic album covers.
GM: Lastly, back to the portrait of Ronnie Van Zant. Why have you decided to auction off this particular portrait at this time?
MC: For many years, I have been donating artwork to the Cancer Support Community for their annual gala auctions. And, as Lynyrd Skynyrd is in the final stretch of the Farewell Tour, it seemed fitting this donation would be a canvas giclée of my Ronnie Van Zant portrait. I am proud to say that the original Ronnie painting is in the collection of The Hard Rock Café.
GM: It’s probably hard to part with any of your paintings — they are probably like children to you — but this will bring a massive amount of joy to the winner of this auction. And it’s for charity, too. Maybe you can explain your bond with a created work — and then its release out into the world?
MC: Well, any painting I do is a form of self expression. It’s much like a songwriter expressing themselves in a very personal way and then sharing it with the world. So, I never have the feeling of being truly separated from my work, even if someone else owns the canvas. My paintings will always be a part of me and I will always be a part of them.