Connect with us
June 2024
Vol. 23, No. 9

Cover Story

Patrick Carney: Standing at the Corner of Art and Soul

by Wayne RikerApril 2022

Patrick Carney. Photo by Ann Landstrom.

“Art is the one thing that speaks to everyone. Art has this long history, predating even language, of expressing nonverbal information. Art is really a series of evolutions.” These are one of many words of wisdom and depth from celebrated artist Patrick Carney, a San Diego County resident since 2001, whose acrylic work can be viewed in many collections throughout the world, primarily spot on representations of celebrated musicians. “The tools of an artist allow anyone to create beautiful, functional, meaningful art,” Carney states. “You can create a spiritual and living world with ink, acrylics, oils, watercolors, colored pencils, and crayons.”
A child of the 1950s and 1960s, Carney grew up in Somers, New York, located 50 miles north of New York City in Westchester County. The oldest of six children, including three sisters and two brothers, Carney’s world was turned upside down when his father, a PGA golf tour pro, died when Carney was seven years old, placing the burden on his mother to raise the children alone. “It was one of the very first life lessons I learned,” he said, “but fortunately Sam Snead and others on the pro golf tour ran a series of pro-ams (pros versus amateurs contests) to help benefit my mom.”

Carney at 15 years old.

Carney’s interest in art commenced when he was very young. “My mother said I came out of the womb with a pencil in my hand,” he mused. “I was drawing animals at an early age—horses, cows, and dogs as a start,” he continued, “although I didn’t start drawing musicians until the day after the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.” One of Carney’s high school art teachers, Bernie Watkins, put him in charge of display cases, so Carney proceeded to fill up the cases with his drawings of many of the English invasion musical groups, including the Dave Clark Five, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. “It became such a hit in the art room, a huge hit,” he beamed.
Watkins, a graduate of Pratt Institute in New York City, had a major role in shaping the direction of Carney’s specific endeavors. “Many who came out of Pratt had an elongated way of drawing, a flowing essence and aura to their works that I really liked,” he said, “so I gravitated toward pen and ink during high school.” In addition, Carney also worked with oils at the time, a process he felt took too long, at which time Watkins offered some prophetic advice. He said, ‘Let me introduce you to acrylics,’” Carney recalls, “which created the formula for what I do today, starting with pen and ink before I do acrylics.” Nowadays when asked to define his craft, he’ll reply: “I’m an acrylic pop portrait artist who hangs out at the corner of art and soul in the church of rock ‘n’ roll.
Carney also credits his fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Hunterdon, as an early influence in the course of the young boy’s artistic evolution. “She introduced me to two things—one, the arts section in the library, and two, poetry, which changed my trajectory and how I looked at the creative process and the arts.” Nowadays, when speaking at high school auditoriums, he urges students to thank their teachers. “One of my biggest regrets,” Carney stated, “was that I never had the opportunity to thank Mrs. Hunterdon.”

Carney at Woodstock, 1969.

After graduating high school in 1968, Carney had a decision to make. He was a star athlete in baseball, which garnered him collegiate scholarship offers, but after he got accepted to the School of Visual Arts in New York City, his career path would become an artist’s journey. “Creatively, it was the best experience that I’ve ever had, mainly because most of the teachers in those days were working artists.” Two of Carney’s teachers were world renowned artists, such as Chuck Close, an innovative photorealist, and Burne Hogarth, a highly regarded visual artist, who did the original illustrations for theTarzan books and comic strips.
As the turbulent decade of the 1960s was coming to a close, Carney was able to avoid the military draft due to failing the standard hearing test. “The night before the test I had attended a Jethro Tull concert with myself situated in the front row taking some photographs for painting possibilities, sitting right in front of the speakers…probably a blessing in disguise …it was the first draft I ever won,” he quipped. Meanwhile, during the summer of 1969, Carney attended the Woodstock Music Festival in upstate New York. Fortunately, he brought a couple of cameras with him to document what he saw there. “It was quite an experience,” he recalled. “I vividly remember the good, the bad, and the indifferent.” The Friday night lineup was especially gratifying for Carney as he reminisced. “For me, even today, I’m really into singer/songwriters, so the lineup that night was my night,” he continued, “which included Richie Havens, Tim Harden, Arlo Guthrie, and Joan Baez, who went on at 2 a.m. in the rain.” Like the many who attended, Carney has no regrets about attending the historic event. “It’s amazing looking back—that half a million people lived in peace, sharing food and lodging over the four days there. Some of the great friends I met there, I still know today,” he concluded.
One of the advantages of living in close proximity to New York City was the opportunity to spend time among the many sketch artists who lined the streets of the East and West Village in Manhattan, in addition to taking in the plentitude of folk singers and blues  musicians of the day. “What great clubs there were back then, the Cafe Wha and the Night Owl Cafe, where the Lovin’ Spoonful were the house band. I had an aunt who lived in the East Village where I could stay overnight,” he vividly recalled, “so I was able to set up some outdoor art shows in the East Village and on Central Park South as well.”

THE 1970s
After graduating from the School of Visual Arts, Carney pursued a teaching certificate at Buffalo State College, a setting in which he would meet his future wife, Mara, in September of 1972. After attending both art schools, Carney found himself in a financial bind due to mounting student loans. “I didn’t have an impressive portfolio at the time to move forward,” he said, “so I asked myself what can I do to make cash for a year?” As fate would have it, he came upon an ad in the newspaper looking for a chauffeur to drive an executive from Greenwich, Connecticut to Manhattan. The company executive was from the DuPont Corporation, heading to his office at 1 Wall Street. One of the other passengers was H. Ross Perot, who had just bought out the company, which was going under. Carney observed the spacious layout of the building and asked if there were any vacant office spaces available. “It was a real gift,” he beamed, “as the company’s head of security said that if I got a haircut and shaved my beard, according to their dress code rules, I was in.” Carney procured a studio there for 14 months and was able to build his portfolio. “Over that time I built up a $30,000 portfolio that enabled me to start my own career….it was perfect for what I needed to do,” he asserted.

Carney with John Sebastian.

With Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.

With Geoff Muldaur.

With Tom Paxton.

For ten years Carney traveled throughout the Northeast with the Jinx Harris Art Tour, presenting art shows every week in tandem with 110 fellow artists. “One of our stops was outside of New Hope, Pennsylvania, in Bucks County.” he fondly recalled, “and I fell in love with the area and thought it was a great place to live.” Bucks County, a bastion for artists, afforded Carney the opportunity to do some of his top quality art shows locally without having to log needless travel miles outside the area.
During one of their stops in Pittsburgh, in a casino-type music venue, Carney encountered a large man with a black suit, black tie, and bolo hat with a distinctively deep voice. “He was watching me sketch Diana Ross at the time and became curious. As it turns out,” he continued, “it was Melvin Franklin from the Temptations. I told him I didn’t sketch anyone I’ve never seen perform live; he said that they were performing at the venue the next five nights. They got me a table right in front that first night. Franklin opened the show by announcing my presence and that the show was dedicated to me as I was going to paint their portrait,” he proudly recalled. “Since I only did one painting of the five-man group, they wanted four others done for each of them, so after I completed them at my home in New Hope, they flew me out to L.A. to deliver them and I got to hang out with them at Capitol  Records … that was pretty cool.”
In 1975, when Carney was doing an art show in Los Angeles, he got to meet John Lennon. “He ordered three paintings, two of him and one of Yoko and him, which I got to deliver to The Dakota apartments, his Manhattan residence.” In 1978, Carney was invited by Colonel Parker to be part of the Always Elvis Fan Convention show in Las Vegas where Ricky Nelson popped out and ordered portraits from him. “Those kinds of things just happen; it’s not like I’m chasing someone,” Carney explained. “Through a connection with Elton John’s personal attendant, Michael Murphy,” Carney continued., “Elton bought a painting I did of Marilyn Monroe, the only painting that he had that was not of himself.” Also, via Murphy, who also worked for Stevie Nicks, Carney was able to do paintings of the members of Fleetwood Mac as well.
“It’s the challenge of attempting to breathe life, to breathe resonance into an otherwise rather impersonal acrylic (plastic) medium,” as Carney states how, in each of his works, he starts with pen and ink. “I begin with four or five photographs using pen and ink, focusing on the eyes as the most important starting feature,” Carney explained. “With all the difficulties involved in capturing a face, you still have to find a subject’s essence, aura, light, soul, and magical thoughts.” Once Carney establishes that, it makes it much easier for him to proceed to the acrylic, including his many Beatles’ portraits. “Each of the Beatles has their own personality,” he said, “so it helps me to play some of their individual music while I’m working on each of their likenesses…if you were to x-ray my paintings, you would have the musical notes on the canvas….it really is all about putting your heart and soul into every creative thing you do…when I accomplish that, I feel free and therefore I am free to create with passion,” he concluded.
Especially among his numerous musician portraits, Carney emphasizes how the purpose of art should be the gradual construction of a state of wonder and delight. “My aim in painting these musicians is to create pulsating, luminous, and open surfaces that emanate a mystical light directly from their music.”

Carney with his grandchildren.

Carney and Mara, who married in 1977, are still together, residing in San Diego County. They have two sons, Michael, 39 and David, 36. David lives in Taiwan and Michael is married with three children, a boy and two girls, making Carney a proud grandfather, better known to them as Papa Pat. “The one grandfather I had and knew was an old school grandfather where kids should be seen and not heard, so I made a commitment to be involved as much as I could in my grandchildren’s lives.” Carney beams about Chase, the oldest of the three who turns seven in June. “He’s really creative and artistic,” Carney stated. “He spends much of his free time drawing; I make him coloring books and then he’ll reproduce them on his own.” In conclusion, Carney summed up his overall joy of being a grandparent by saying, “When each of my grandchildren were born, it changed me…I felt it was the essence of what life is all about, and it makes me smile all day.”
In 1970, when Carney was part of an outdoor art show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a gentleman sat down next to him introducing himself as Charlie. As Carney related the story, it became a fortuitous moment for him. “We talked for an hour, during which time I had no clients; he couldn’t believe that I was making a living doing what I do….subsequently he invited me to his house for dinner.” As it turns out, the host was Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, a world-renowned motivational speaker and transformational leader. After dinner, Jones took Carney out to a converted barn where Jones had over 25,000 books in his possession. “He gave me my very first copy,” Carney recalled, “of the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. There was a chapter on Mastermind,” Carney explained, “which is about blending and creating synergy between people’s thoughts.”
Since then, Carney has been conducting Mastermind sessions every other Tuesday morning, consisting of 12 members. “Every other Tuesday when we meet,” Carney explained, “it’s not just those 12 people’s physical presence, but the culmination of their life experiences, every book they’ve read, every teacher, siblings, parents, all blended synergistically in a room.” Each session features a member in the “hot seat” as Carney describes: “A person, for example, may present a song or poem they’ve written with some background information about the piece. Then the person is silent as the group gives lengthy feedback….it changes lives as it all comes down to that group masterminding for them.” On alternate Tuesdays, Carney invites in guest speakers to help motivate and generate new concepts and ideas. Members switch out after a year or two, according to Carney, to enable new blood and fresh perspectives to rotate in.
Carney recently got involved in the We Are One foundation, a place where new ideas and business models are created with the help of new role models, providing resources that our youth needs to create new solutions for an interdependent world. “Not only youth, but parents,” Carney cited, “are taught heart-centered philosophy…how to love and grow up with a giving attitude. I heard about this foundation through ‘Grandma Sparky’ Bridges, founder of the ‘Who I Am Makes a Difference’ program, which distributes blue ribbons worldwide—where all people can feel connected, valued, and loved.” Carney is currently working with a school outside of Austin, Texas, a home school scenario, where students document their school experiences. “It’s a great opportunity to give back and I’m really impressed by it…it’s prevented thousands of suicides.”
Carney was fortunate to be part of the inaugural Beatlefest gathering in 1974 (now called the Fest for Beatles Fans), which has been held over the years in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. That gave him a foot up on garnering his international reputation. “In those days I was the only one doing what I do; today there are thousands,” he said. “In 1977, when it was held in Chicago, I was on my honeymoon; I made so much money on my art there that we extended our honeymoon,” he laughed. “When they held their fiftieth anniversary recently, they gave me a whole room out of respect for what my work captures.”
Locally, in San Diego, the AMSD concert series, which began in 2003, afforded Carney the opportunity to meet and draw many of the guest musical performers, mainly ones past and present in the acoustic singer/songwriter world. “It gave me great connections with Richie Havens, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, and Tom Rush to name a few,” he said. Most of their concerts have an intermission where the artist will come out and talk with you and sign CDs. “I was honored one night.” he proclaimed, “when singer/songwriter Eliza Gilkyson announced on stage that when she goes into her writing room, she touches my painting of her for inspiration…that was very gratifying to be acknowledged like that!”
From a challenging childhood to a budding artist, star athlete, chauffeur, husband, father, and grandfather, Carney has lived many lifetimes in his journey on the planet. Beyond being just an artiste extraordinaire, he is the true Universal Man, giving back in gratitude to the world around him, which is evident through the passion of his own words: “Desire is the key to motivation, and it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your art…one of the great realizations that an artist can come to understand is that the work of art lives in the experience, in the journey within the process, not in the completed piece that is to be presented in a gallery; it’s the possibility of having a dream come to fruition through the creative process that makes life interesting…it’s our responsibility as artists to pass that gift on.” AMEN!

Continue Reading