There’s more to the “Beautiful People of Northern Virginia” than just politicos. You could be walking around one day, drinking your hazelnut latte and bump into Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Michael Cartellone. He lived in the McLean area at the start of the 1990’s. Cartellone’s in-laws, General and Mrs. Edward C. Meyer, still reside in Arlington. General Meyer, you may recall, was the 4-star general who was Chief of Staff of the Army during the Carter administration. Cartellone was just in Northern Virginia during the Christmas holidays and he returns to the area a few times a year. His favorite haunt, “must see, must do!” is the Vienna Inn for chili cheese dogs. “They have the best! They’re worth the heartburn. You gotta cheat sometime!” Cartellone exclaims.
This month, he has a showing of his paintings in NYC, at the Grant Gallery. I wanted to ask if he perhaps has a little self-portrait up in the attic Dorian Grey style; he has not aged at all in 20 years.
Cartellone is currently in his early 40’s, born in Cleveland. Painting since the age of four and drumming since the age of nine, he started playing bars at the age of 11. His persistence paid off; in 1989 he formed with Ted Nugent, Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw the super-group Damn Yankees. Since the dissolution of Damn Yankees, he has recorded with musicians such as John Fogerty, Peter Frampton, Freddie Mercury, Cher and now Lynyrd Skynyrd. His musical work has inspired his painting; Cartellone has painted a body of work called the “Road Series”, snapshots of life on the road with Lynyrd Skynyrd. The paintings of this series have a pop art elements with photo realism. His earlier work had very strong photorealism aspects, but with point of view fantasy-distortion elements. I spoke with Cartellone, who is extremely erudite and articulate.
OTC: How did the art opening go?
MC: It was everything I hoped it would be, it could not have gone any better. The gallery was completely jam-packed with people. It was an interesting mix of people in the entertainment world. There was Gary Sheffield and John Rocker from the Yankees, Simon Kirke, who’s the drummer from Bad Company, Eric Bloom from Blue Oyster Cult. Without getting too “name-droppy,” all my friends were there.
OTC: What are your latest projects?
MC :I am in the middle of a painting that I’ve been doing on and off for several years. It’s a New York City street scene in the 1920’s. It’s a monumental task, with the buildings, people and automobiles of that era. It’s in black and white. The central point of this painting will be a couple of people who were influential on me. It’s in a Norman Rockwell style and I have Charlie Chaplin, Harry Houdini and my father on a bench. My father was born in 1923 and I’ve made them all in their 40’s sitting on a bench at the same time. The painting, it grows out of my lifelong fascination with that era, a more innocent time. I was a magician as a little kid. That golden era, it is very pleasing to me.
OTC: The Road Series is characterized by intense, clean colors. Is that your favorite color palette?
MC: Actually, my latest portrait of John Lennon is in black and white. I prefer black and white. I was using the colors as a fun exercise, a diversion.
OTC: What medium did you use for the originals?
MC: Acrylic, it dries so fast! I studied with oils in school, though. I needed to work with something I could pack away. I used to draw with charcoal on tour.
OTC: You were a child prodigy. Did your parents encourage you?
MC: They did. From kindergarten on, I took every art and music class offered in school. When my drum teacher formed a band, my parents took me to play and sat at the front table of every disgusting beer bar. They let me rehearse with all my high school garage bands in their basement. They drove us to every gig in a beat up old van. When I went to New York City to find the gold at the end of the rainbow, my parents drove me in that same beat up old van, with my drum and my clothes. We arrived at a friend’s apartment that had been sight unseen. Needless to say, it was nothing like the nice home environment where I had come from. They are still supportive! They flew out from Cleveland this weekend to see my art opening.
OTC: What artists have influenced you?
MC: Norman Rockwell, M.C. Escher and Surratt.
OTC: You create art in your downtime. But do you ever have a chance to sight-see in the cities you visit? Do you go to art museums?
MC: Well, it’s a little of both. Some days, I cannot paint. If I only have an hour before a show, I won’t even get out the canvas. I want to say something about my lifestyle on tour. It’s not unlike my regular lifestyle. I have an exercise routine, clean diet and I sleep well. Wherever I go, I jog. I experience the town by running, half an hour to an hour. I do about a 10-minute mile. We predominantly play outdoors. If I jog in the morning, my body can fully adjust to that city’s air quality. The air is very thin in Colorado, for example.
Michael Cartellone’s art and music can be found at www.michaelcartellone.com.